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We are all fur coat and no knickers
Fermanagh Gaels should greet the words of Peter Canavan regarding his future with a fair degree of alarm. Canavan is as smooth a media operator as I have come across. He chooses his words carefully and there can be little doubt that he is very unhappy about some aspects of the support given to the Fermanagh county team this year.
Despite the defeats in the championship there was huge positives to take from this season. Promotion was achieved and players pulled together. Now, with what Canavan has said, and perhaps more worringly what he has not said, the feeling cannot be shaken that we are heading for the rocks. It doesn’t make it any easier that some saw it coming.
Let us go back in time. To County convention, December 2010. On a cold night the club house in Brewster Park is crammed and an uncomfortable warmth envelopes delegates as Peter Carty gives his annual chairman’s address. In it he agrees with his secretary, Tom Boyle, who had reported earlier to the meeting that the demands of running county teams in 2011 ‘will present us all with a tough challenge.’ The Secretary asserted that a budget be set up that paid ‘particular attention’ to a number of areas including the ‘cost of county teams’. For the record Fermanagh had spent the equivalent of 416,951 euro in 2010.
Mr Carty was also unambiguous in the need for a cutting of the cloth;
“Finance in general is such a challenging issue that we need to take a hard look at all its aspects. I would support the County Secretary’s proposal set out in his report that budgets be set down for County teams and Management and work needs to be done within these budgets. Reviews should be done at regular intervals.”
It could not have been clearer that the executive were planning to tighten the belt in 2011. And what a tightening it was with over 160,000 euro saved on team costs with 258,676 spent on county teams. Now with regard to the debacle surrounding our senior team in 2011 I don’t really care what side of the fence you sit regarding who was to blame. That is not important. I just wish to draw your attention to the fact that the executive asked for savings to be made and they were. Policy it seems was followed.
One year later we asked Jarlath Burns to carry out a review into what went on in 2011 with our senior football team. He did his review and made a number of recommendations. One of which was the need for monthly budgets to be set aside for county teams.
Taking the Chairman and Secretary’s thoughts in December 2010 and this recommendation by Burns in 2011 it is clear that Fermanagh needed to run a very tight ship when it came to the cost of our county teams. Again this is not my opinion but other peoples. So, don’t shoot the messenger.
Anyway, we are where we are now. Newspapers are reporting that Fermanagh players are not getting their travelling expenses on time and that fund-raising drives have been not as successful as hoped and that Fermanagh Gaels are questioning the role of Club Eirne. We are heading for another fine mess folks.
But here is what gets me in all of this. Peter Canavan was a brilliant appointment. Inspired really. Even if the mechanism surrounding his appointment stunk, but that is another columns work. He was a man with a clear goal and I cannot imagine that he would have taken the job without assurances that the Fermanagh players would be treated the same as players from other counties. He even said as much in his interview with the Fermanagh Herald today. So taking Peter Canavan into consideration and the views expressed at county convention in 2010 and by Jarlath Burns in 2011 how are we in this mess now?
We can only speculate that one of three things happened. Peter Canavan was given a budget and he ignored it. Peter Canavan was given a budget, he stuck to it but there was still a shortfall. Or there was no budget at all but Canavan was given assurances that players needs would be met. Now, which do you think of those is the most likely? Not the first anyway.
Club Eirne continue to split opinion within the county. To some they are an un-elected group with far too much influence on how the county is run while to others they are the saviours of all our financial difficulties. In truth they are neither. They are a hard working group of Fermanagh people with the county’s best interests at heart. But that does not mean that their role is not in need of a major overhaul.
They withdrew funding for the county team in 2011 after they asserted that the manager had not requested to meet them. Meeting the manager, they said was something that always happened so that extra funds could be allocated where they were needed.
In Club Eirne’s own correspondence to members in other years it stated clearly that they met with county board officials to decide where their money would be spent, with no reference to meeting a manager. I’m probably nit picking though. So. let’s leave this anomaly aside. Club Eirne’s fund raising work is not to be sniffed at as they have raised the guts of a hundred grand year on year.
But there is a problem with the allocation of these funds. Club Eirne have consistently said that it could only provide funding outside of what the county board were obliged to fund themselves. So they could not help out with travelling expenses, meals, gear etc. They were to help Fermanagh with that extra push to get us to the top of the mountain. The problem is that we are stuck at base camp. It’s like being given a couple of grand to run your car every year but then being told that you can only spend it on a paint job and new alloys and that you will have to find the money for insurance and petrol yourself. It is real fur coat and no knicker stuff.
I have said it before, the county board do not have the fund-raising capabilities of Club Eirne. We need to either take Club Eirne into the county board or else make their money available for other expenses as is the case with other external fund-raising bodies in other counties. What we are doing now is ludicrous. We are putting in underground heating when we have no windows in the house.
So, here I am the penny pincher putting a downer on things as usual. I’m not by the way, but if it suits you to think that then fine. To be honest what was spent on Fermanagh in 2011 would never prepare a county team adequately in my mind. But that is the fault of the county board. They set the budget for that year. And that is sort of the point. Fermanagh swing from the sublime to the ridiculous. You can trace it right back to the start of the century. Fermanagh have either thrown truck loads of cash at the senior team or they have shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘sorry lads, nothing left in the pot this year.’
We have no long term plan and we need one desperately. And it needs to centre on our youth structure not our senior team. We have great people at youth level doing fantastic work with sometimes both hands tied behind their back. Our pyramid is inverted with focus, emphasis and money all placed at the elite level. We need to radically change this. A number of trainers who have worked with Fermanagh senior teams in recent years have said that in terms of physical conditioning we are way behind the rest. But we have not looked to address this.
Budgets need to be set down not just for month to month but for year to year. Open and honest transparency is needed to ensure that while saving money we do not cut corners in terms of preparation or player welfare. Other counties do it and they do not spend a fortune. In 2011 Tyrone spent 427,225 on their county teams. Just ten thousand more than we spent in 2010. We should be looking to spend around 400,000 a year and we had reached that point before major cuts were enforced. If that means we have to change how we fund raise then so be it. Innovative thinking won’t kill us. Doing nothing and sticking the head in the sand might. And it might just mean we lose our most valuable asset; Mr Canavan.