Taken for granted: GAA stars such as Oisin McConville are the latest victims of the downturn

A CONTROVERSIAL pay-for-play scheme for GAA players is almost certain to be slashed or even axed due to budgetary cutbacks.

The Irish Sports Council, which is responsible for administering the scheme, has had its annual funding cut by €4m to €53m.

The pay-for-play scheme is paid towards the end of the calendar year at which point the Sports Council's budget will most probably have been further cut and funds will be running short. Sources in the Department of Arts, Tourism and Sport said the €3.5m-a-year scheme was under serious threat and was not now considered "good value for money".

A spokesman for the council said: "We have to make budget decisions for 2009 on the basis of the funding cut and obviously we have been able to make savings right across the organisation.

"We are going to announce high-performance grants this week and we have to pay local sports partnerships and those would be considered the core parts of our business.

"Only then will we be able to make a decision on remaining headings. When the core business is dealt with, the council make decisions then on other major budgets.

"No formal decision has been made yet nor will it come to that until after the finality of the All Ireland series. The department has said it is ultimately a decision for the Sports Council."

The pay-for-play deal has been agreed to run for three years but is now almost certain to be substantially scaled back.

A source said: "There is understandable reluctance to break this agreement because such enormous pressure was put on the government to fund this project. Unfortunately for the players, it simply is no longer seen as a priority and it will be lucky to survive in any shape or form by the end of 2009."

The Department of Arts, Tourism and Sport said: "The funding of the gaelic players grant schemes is a matter for the Irish Sports Council in the context of the distribution of its budget for 2009. In light of the current economic constraints and the reduction in the ISC's allocation of funding in the 2009 estimates ... [the department is] having discussions with the council on optimum funding options in order to maintain its existing programmes while building on recent progress.

"The future funding of the gaelic players scheme is being considered in that context."

The scheme was paid out for the first time following last year's All Ireland finals. Players are paid according to how many appearances they made, effectively how far their county progressed in the championships. Grants of between €1,400 and €2,500 were made payable to players.