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brennan's brief How the GAA have missed a trick by playing county games before club matches this year

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Dublin will face Donegal in their Allianz NFL Division 1 semi-final at a neutral venue on the weekend after next, while Galway face a trip to Monaghan for their relegation play-off

Dublin will face Donegal in their Allianz NFL Division 1 semi-final at a neutral venue on the weekend after next, while Galway face a trip to Monaghan for their relegation play-off

Dublin will face Donegal in their Allianz NFL Division 1 semi-final at a neutral venue on the weekend after next, while Galway face a trip to Monaghan for their relegation play-off

With every passing happy announcement from the Government that a part of normality is to be returned to our lives, the suspicion grows that the GAA missed a trick by playing county football and hurling before club competitions this year.

On the GAA’s current schedule, the inter-county season will end with the All-Ireland Hurling and Football Finals on August the 22nd and 29th respectively. The last four months of 2021 will then be left to club activity.

The GAA was afraid that, if they went the other way around, that restrictions would not have been relaxed enough in time to let club games go ahead now and over the next two months. It is much easier for a County Board to host one inter-county game, in a decent stadium, than to host 40 club matches every weekend in grounds where people just drive in off the road.

Now we know that clubs can have people at their matches from next week. But, to quote the great Giovanni Trapattoni, ‘the cat is out of the sack’ and it is too late for GAA HQ to try and stuff it back in and reverse course.

But if the Government is now talking about 25,000 people attending the Finals at the end of August, how many could have been fitted into Croke Park if it took place in the first two weeks of December?

By then, at the rate of current progress with the vaccination roll-out, every adult in Ireland will be doubly vaccinated. It might not be a full house of 82,300 for December All-Ireland Finals. But it might be at least two-thirds full. And that is an awful lot of lost ticket revenue.

It is clear that it is likely to take at least two full ‘normal’ years for the GAA’s finances to recover from the losses of 2020 and 2021. Yes, the Government has given grants to allow the All-Irelands be played - but that is only covering costs at best.

The GAA has now, understandably, fallen way behind on the grants it gives to its clubs all over the country to improve grounds and dressing-rooms and clubhouses.

Yet there are also big building projects looming at Casement Park, Navan, Newbridge and at Louth’s new ground outside Dundalk. And that’s before the bail-out of Pairc Ui Chaoimh continues and before the Dublin County Board do what is hasn’t done in a decade and asks for capital grants as it begins to develop new playing pitches and training grounds at Hollystown and Spawell.

The reality is that the GAA will have to borrow a serious amount of money for all of that and then repay it, over ten or 12 years, out of the Premium Tickets and Corporate Box money it gets every year from Croke Park – when all is back to normal.

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