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Connacht Sporting groups attend 'Financing Sporting Ambition' Seminar

The seminar was opened by John Murphy, Vice-President Connacht Council GAA, who thanked the seventy-five volunteers who had come from clubs in all parts of Connacht and welcomed them to the fabulous Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence, in Bekan. The Centre is centrally located between Knock and Ballyhaunis and is accessible to clubs in all parts of the Province. As well as six full-size training pitches, grass and all-weather, the centre has a fully furnished educational gym and match analysis suite, meeting all the needs of players and coaches.
Mr Murphy said that in his role as Chair of the GAA’s national infrastructure committee, he was very conscious of the needs at club level today to ensure that they continue to achieve their social as well as sporting ambitions.
The first presentation was from Tracey Hannon, who as Clann Credo’s representative in Connacht for two decades has assisted hundreds of Community organisations. These range from Loughrea Family Resource Centre in Galway to Ionad Ealaoin Iorras Teo (Áras Inis Gluaire) in Belmullet, Co. Mayo and include sports groups such as Louisburgh GAA Club and Bearna Na Forbacha Aontaithe (Barna Furbo United FC).
Sports bodies in Connacht can now avail of ‘no personal guarantee’ loans under a new €10m Community Sports Loan Fund. It is specifically aimed at 1,700 sports clubs recently awarded grants under the government’s latest €56m Sports Capital Programme, but all local sports clubs may apply.
Tracey said that “many projects with an approved sports capital grant still face major obstacles when it comes to drawing down funds from the Department. Grants are only released when the associated works or equipment have been paid for. This forces clubs to borrow in many cases. Even if a bank is prepared to lend to the club, it will often require the club’s volunteers to personally guarantee repayment. We think this is unfair.”
John Prenty, Secretary of Connacht GAA brought the delegates through the Sports Capital grant application process. He urged people to start planning their application now as the amount of time between the formal announcement of the new scheme and closing date can often be quite short. No date has been indicated for when the 2018 round will open.
Connacht GAA on behalf of the National Financial Management Committee (NFMC) also awards grants to clubs that undertake development of their physical infrastructure. These grants are only available to clubs that have their facilities vested in the GAA.
Charlie Lambert, Sports Coordinator Mayo Sports Partnership, said that each year Mayo Sports Partnership “assists sports groups/organisations financially in projects for which the main aim is to increase participation in sports/activities.”
Every county has a Sports Partnership and their aim is to increase participation in all sports and to ensure local resources and facilities are used to the best effect. The partnership boards are representative of interested agencies and sporting groups in each county.
He advised clubs to get in touch with their local Sports Partnership and while the amount of grants available may be small, they can give invaluable advice to any sports club considering applying for a Sports Capital Grant. They may also be able to assist clubs in identifying potential partners, such as schools or organisations supporting those who may be socially excluded. These partnerships can strengthen any grant application.
Mr Murphy introduced the final speaker of the night, John Gallagher from CLG Béal An Mhuirthead (Belmullett GAA). He said John’s achievements are well known around the province especially their state of the art development which comprises two full-size pitches along with a clubhouse and a large function room.
John spoke of his experience having been involved with two groups who received support from Clann Credo; the GAA club and Comharchumann Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile (Deirbhile Development Co-op).
John wanted the attendees to learn from their experiences and shared what went well and what did not go so well. He said that they should have sought grant funding at the very earliest stages and that they benefitted enormously when they involved the skilled professionals who were members of the club.
The grant application process can be tedious and time consuming but is well worth it in the end. He found “dealing with Clann Credo a lot easier because Tracey understood and supported what we were trying to do and she did not ask for any complicated application form. She asked for our club’s accounts going back two or three years and we had to do projections for the future to show that we had the ability to repay the loan. Doing the projections was helpful to us as well.”
Clann Credo loaned the club €120,000. John said that the club made a mistake by not repaying the loan early out of the surplus generated from hosting Comórtas Peile na Gaeltachta. “We would have saved on the interest payments and there would have been no penalty for early repayment”.
Some of the lessons learnt in the GAA project helped to make other projects by the Comharchuman Forbartha such as Halla Naomh Bhreandáin, the Eachléim Heritage Centre, Erris Tourism / Carne Golf Links and Cumann na mBadóirí a success.
He emphasised the importance of a strong professional person to deal with compliance and other issues. He also said that it was vital to look at a wide range of possible grant funders and to make sure that your application is tailored to the specific funding criteria. While double funding is not allowed, it was important to research the differing criteria and pitch accordingly.
For Halla Naomh Bhreandáin they made successful applications to over six different agencies for different aspects of the development. The hall now hosts concerts, kids’ activity fun days, community card games, bingo, sports for both young and old, youth clubs, summer camps and various safe pass, manual handling, computer and music courses. It also has office space complete with hot desk facilities.
In 2017, the hall was the hub during the 42 days of the search and recovery operation following the crash of the Irish Coast Guard helicopter (Rescue 116). The tragedy, which claimed the lives of the four crew members occurred near Blacksod lighthouse on the Mullet peninsula. The local community organised for 10,000 meals which were served by volunteers.
Before opening the session to the floor for questions, Paul O’Sullivan made special mention of the joint award of People of the Year to the community of Erris and Irish Coast Guard. The honour was presented at the 43rd People of the Year Awards, organised by Rehab, in recognition of the heroic work of the men and women of the Irish Coast Guard in risking lives to assist maritime and coastal communities, while the people of Erris were recognised for their contribution to the search for the missing crew.
A lively question and answer session followed. Tracey Hannon confirmed that Clann Credo has considered refinancing a club’s existing debt in circumstances where it would help a club. John Prenty reminded GAA clubs that depending on the level of borrowings, prior approval must be secured from the County Board, Connacht GAA or Central Council. Charlie Lambert advised clubs to start checking title to property now because if the title needs to be sorted out, e.g. trustees replaced, it can take some time. Paul O’Sullivan, Clann Credo CEO said that Clann Credo’s biggest challenge was getting information out to community organisations and clubs about the availability of Community Loan Finance. He asked everyone to spread the word in their own communities.
Clann Credo would like to thank the officers and staff of Connacht GAA for their initiative in organising the seminar which was designed to help the clubs navigate the world of grants and explain how loan finance can help.
The presentations from the seminar are available via the links below:
Charlie Lambert, Mayo Sports Partnership (Grant Application 2017, Grant Draw Down)

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