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Saturday 25 January 2020

Culhane vows to overtake Dublin wealth if he is elected to head of the Tribe

Mick Culhane is bidding to be chairman of the Galway County Board. Photo: Sportsfile
Mick Culhane is bidding to be chairman of the Galway County Board. Photo: Sportsfile

Raincoats, pencil cases, pyjamas, even teddy bears in the distinctive maroon and white of Galway GAA - items you won't find in any regular store.

But you might soon be able to purchase them somewhere in the city if Mick Culhane gets his opportunity to impress his vision on the county after Monday's convention, when he contests the chair against Pat Kearney.

Culhane is a familiar figure in the county, having fundraised for the footballers in the John O'Mahony years and more recently for Conor Hayes and Micheal Donoghue's hurlers.

Having sold the insurance part of his business during the summer - he retains the financial services side of Murray and Spellman - time is a little less scarce than it was. And that has prompted him to seek to catch winds of administrative change which have been blowing in a few counties this week, most notably in Offaly where Michael Duignan was appointed chairman.

Culhane's timing may be impeccable as the county grapples with its latest financial aches. Twelve months ago, outgoing treasurer Mike Burke laid bare a number of startling revelations that ranged from a ticket debt of nearly half-a-million euro to Croke Park to what he called "serious abuse" of the board's credit card.

Having led a committee that examined the finances from the previous years they established that officers' expenses had been over €45,000 in 2016 but were pared back to around €10k last year.

On Thursday night clubs were briefed on the latest financial developments. With income dropping by €1m there's a deficit of €261k for the year, a reversal of €635k as fundraising streams plummeted.

All this in the midst of a significant spike in gate receipts in the county over the last two years despite no obvious rise in attendances or prices.

The financial problems pre-dated Kearney's term as chairman, which is at the end of a third year, but with €1.7m owed to Croke Park and growing dissatisfaction about the extent of the problem - sponsors Supervalu and the Tribesmen Supporters Club have both been vocal - the prospect of a businessman with a track record of revenue generation will test the county's loyalty to the status quo.

Culhane is ambitious enough to declare that the €4m income stream registered this year can be added to significantly if he is elected. He added that they can even generate more than Dublin, whose 2019 income was €5.24m.

"Dublin are the standard-bearers, not only on the pitch but off it. My aim is not only to get up there but to bypass them," he said.

"It's (Galway GAA) on the floor right now. Micheal Donoghue would still be there if there was a proper board there."

Brochure

A brochure distributed to clubs two weeks ago set out his agenda, with the appointment of a commercial manager a priority.

"It's a damaged brand and companies are not inclined to give money to us. With a new regime, where there is complete transparency and proper governance, I think there will be a completely different mindset. Because it is such a good brand, it will turn into a massive positive.

"We need to look at every aspect of revenue from main sponsor down because we are simply not getting what we should be getting," he said. "We are arguably the best, biggest dual county in Ireland and that should appeal to many companies and corporates, both locally and nationally.

"We have to explore the international market at our disposal. We would probably have the best-known business people who have made it in the US and UK and we are getting little or no return on that. That's a huge avenue. It's something that Galway should be able to tap into, just as Kerry have been doing."

Plans to build a hurling centre of excellence in Athenry have been shelved, leading to further debt. The Loughgeorge facility, which was built for Galway football teams, is also used by the hurling teams now, causing regular congestion.

Culhane plans to explore land acquisition around Loughgeorge and, if that's not available, seek new ground elsewhere for hurling preparation.

Floodlights are another priority. There is planning granted in Pearse Stadium and, if elected, Culhane wants to see them up in time for the 2021 leagues.

"Eirsport announced their schedule this week for Saturday nights and Galway teams don't feature. Why? Because there are no lights," he added.

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