The GAA Annual report and Accounts published yesterday paints a stark picture of the impact that Covid-19 has had on the association in financial terms.

It also presents a background to the pressures that were ever-present during a year in which the community and collective side of the association came to be such an important part of how the country maintained its balance.

Writing in his report the GAA Director General Tom Ryan says that

“When it first became apparent that a Covid threat was emerging we did not foresee the extent or duration of what was ahead. The initial shutdown of our activities in late March was in the sincere expectation of a difficult few months and no more, and we expected to be able to weather a brief interruption.”

We were very clear about what our priorities should be. To uphold our responsibilities with regard to public
health and safety; To play whatever part we could in assisting communities; To uphold the standing and reputation of the
Association; To adopt a consistent approach across both jurisdictions and leave nobody behind; To try to provide, within whatever scope we were permitted, the best playing opportunities we could for as many people as possible; and to protect as best we could the livelihoods of our employees.”

“What followed proved more difficult than we could have imagined. We tried our best to live up to our responsibilities to the Association and to society. And we tried to be mindful of our above priorities with regard to each step we took.”

“The pressure on the Association was amplified by what was at stake – peoples’ health and the Association’s future wellbeing – and by the degree of scrutiny that was applied to us at every juncture.”

“We did not always get everything right, and we did not fully deliver on every aspect, but I do think we comported ourselves reasonably well and lived up to our responsibilities.”

“As state restrictions evolved we consistently adopted a slightly more conservative stance – we shut down earlier; restricted ourselves more comprehensively and we didn’t reopen facilities, training or games at the earliest permitted opportunity. I know that this caused quite an amount of frustration within the membership at times but it was borne simply out of caution, not lack of conviction.”


“Similarly, there were calls from many quarters at many stages for clarity with regards to our plans for competitions, venues and so on. In many cases, these were questions to which we simply didn’t know the answers ourselves. We just tried to be flexible, to keep our options open and to make sure that if we were given a chance to get matches started again at any stage we would be in a position to do so.”

“I must admit that the clamour of voices calling upon us to take certain actions, do certain things, stop doing other things, sometimes the same thing at the same time, was very difficult to manage.”

“We tried not to be distracted and to keep grounded by the principles I mentioned above. We also had to admit at times that we didn’t yet know what to do, but that we would get there.”

This degree of honesty and adherence to the right principles will stand to the GAA even though the race is far from run in terms of emerging from the crisis.

We have long given up reading the comments section of media stories as the degree to which embedded prejudice remains is simply too depressing. In light of the report yesterday we dipped in again to see if there had been any change but we won’t be back again.

Sports profile means that everybody has an opinion and many people are convinced that they would do things differently and better.

Wins and Losses

Ultimately though the wins and losses column for the GAA last year stack up well.

The Championships were completed and kept a sense of sanity for many through the months of October to December.

The return of underage training that came back in the summer and ran all the way through to the end of the year, with all the right protocols in place made the harsh reality of what we were going through more bearable for kids and those who continued to get and stay involved as coaches and mentors.

The community call initiative which arose initially out of the GAA partnership with SuperValu provided the genuine connection to people at a time when there was the greatest fear of contracting the virus.

If it saved one life it places all the financial burdens in such a different context.

And those financial burdens were heavy.

Cutting Cloth

The GAA as a mainly amateur and volunteer-driven body has got a greater ability than other elite sports to shrink itself, to cut its cloth and to maintain its identity driven by a different kind of fuel.

The €34 million loss on the financial year, up to the end of October, includes the losses at a central level, provincial and County boards. Clubs losses are managed at a local level and any subsequent assistance that will be needed in that area has yet to be fully considered.

The loss of gate revenue from the Championships, from Broadcast and commercial sponsorships and from the use of venues like Croke Park as business and entertainment venues make up the bulk of the hits absorbed.

Total revenues in 2019, excluding Government funding, amounted to €112,362,472. That crashed last year to €31,965,939.

Additional Government support of €18,531,308 as opposed to €6,068,155 was vital and is fully credited by Ryan in his commentary.

That level of support enabled the Championships to go ahead and to leverage what money did come in through broadcast and sponsorship revenue.

There were no gate receipts from Championship or the closing stages of the Allianz League and that represented a fall of 90 per cent of revenue. It was a similar bleak outcome in terms of Box hire, premium level seating and catering, as well as the rental of Croke Park for other events and conferences.

Broadcast and media income fell by over 50 per cent from €20,691,917 to €9,180,495.

The split in terms of income and State funding and the timing of the financial year means that some of both have been carried forward into 2021.

Continued Shortfall

It is still far from clear as to how much of this will offset the likely continued massive shortfall in funding.

Last year’s shutdown came in large part after most individual memberships had been paid at club level and passed up the chain in terms of registration at County level. Six weeks into the renewal period and with no ball kicked in anger, there may yet be a greater hit at that level in the current year.

The report is one of the most comprehensive documents we get each year into the reach of sport into so many areas of our life.

Over the coming days, we will look at some of the areas in greater detail, from communications and media to youth, community and the relationship between the men’s and women’s worlds of Gaelic Games.

We will leave the final word to Tom Ryan who concluded his report with the message that “We were sorely tested this year and we kept going. And I hope that we are a better organisation for all that.”

“We are certainly all the stronger for the huge voluntary effort that we saw throughout the GAA this year. Sincere thanks are due to everybody who played a part – on the field and off – in keeping the Association and our games to the forefront of Irish life.
If we can harness the confidence and conviction and cooperation that was in evidence throughout the GAA last year I know there are better times ahead for us.”

His being right in that final summation is something we can all hope for with every fibre.


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