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cash worries Why money matters as GAA struggle to solve the riddle of how to kick-start the 2021 season

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Jack Prendergast of Waterford is tackled by Tim O'Mahony of Cork during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship

Jack Prendergast of Waterford is tackled by Tim O'Mahony of Cork during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship

Jack Prendergast of Waterford is tackled by Tim O'Mahony of Cork during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship

The human cost of Covid-19 outweighs everything.

So far, there have been 4,036 deaths in the Republic of Ireland. More than one thousand died in January alone.

It is difficult to look beyond those figures. Everything else seems secondary.

Covd-19 has impacted on every aspect of our lives. The fall-out will last for years.

Take the GAA for example. Their annual accounts revealed the financial carnage the pandemic has inflicted.

Last year, the GAA employed 158, consisting of 60 people in games promotion, welfare, and development, 23 administration and support staff, 61 in the Croke Park Stadium and museum and 14 in management positions.

All took a significant cut in their salaries, beginning in April with reductions of 10 per cent to 20 percent followed by further reductions in early summer ranging from 15 percent to 40 percent.

Nonetheless, their wage bill, including PRSI and pension costs, was €8,188,643, or 44.1 percent of the government bailout grant of €18,531,308 given to the association.

The GAA's 14 management staff, who are not individually named in the annual report, earned an average of €106,719 in 2020 compared to €125,845 the previous year.

The overall bill for the senior executives including PRSI and pension costs was €1.86m, which was half of what the organisation earned in gate receipts last year.

The Association needs to get bums on seats in 2021 to pay their staff, never mind meet all their other commitments such as county team training and players’ expenses, games development and infrastructural projects.

No wonder there is an internal debate in the GAA about how the season should be organised in 2021.

Though committed to a split county-club season with inter-county starting first, the financial implications of this policy are profound.

Right now, nobody knows for certain when inter-county activity will resume, and the National leagues may have to be scrapped.

Purely viewed from a financial viewpoint, this would be a prudent decision. Realistically, regardless of whether the leagues begin in early or late April, or early May, there is little prospect of spectators being allowed into grounds to see games.

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Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Meath in last year's Leinster Championship

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Meath in last year's Leinster Championship

Con O'Callaghan of Dublin in action against Meath in last year's Leinster Championship

A bigger decision facing the GAA is whether to proceed with the All-Ireland series as planned in early summer and deal with the fall-out from not earning a cent in gate receipts from their showcase competitions for the second year in a row.

There is an alternative which offers the prospect of financial reward. In this scenario club activity would re-start in late spring/early summer with the All-Ireland series again taking place at the tail end of the year.

By then, most of the population should have received the Covid-19 vaccine, which raises the prospects of crowds at gates.

Granted, there is little chance of 70,000 fans being allowed into Croke Park for the All-Ireland final on the weekend before Christmas – but perhaps 20,000 could see the game live.

But the choice is not as straight forward as it appears.

For starters, club activity cannot resume until restrictions have been eased. Nobody knows when that might happen.

Then there is the nightmare scenario of Covid-19 cases increasing again in the autumn if enough people haven't received the vaccine.

This would jeopardise the prospect of fans being allowed into games.

And would players want to play again in empty stadia?

Even if they had the wisdom of Solomon this is an unenviable choice for the GAA’s decision makers.

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