Dublin's success behind Croke Park unease, says GAA president John Horan

GAA president John Horan believes Dublin’s success is behind the determination to take them out of Croke Park.

Speaking at the launch of the All-Ireland senior championships at Inis Mór yesterday, Horan admitted a debate needs to be held about the venues and schedule of the Super 8 matches.

However, he claimed the recent calls for Dublin to play more games away from Croke Park has been prompted by their string of victories in recent years.

Put to him that Dublin have played almost three-quarters of their league and Championship games in GAA HQ, Horan replied: “But they have been very successful in that period of time too, and All-Ireland semi-final and finals are always played in Croke Park, as are National League finals so the stats are a little bit skewed when you’re putting it out in that manner, I feel.”

“Dublin have been playing in Croke Park for a long number of years now and all of a sudden one issue over the Super 8s has kicked all of this off.”

Cognisant of being a born and bred Dubliner, Horan said the matter didn’t come down to jealousy but rivalry. 

“I never experienced any begrudgery going around this country looking to become president of this organisation as a Dublin man. In actual fact it was never ever on the table, so I don’t feel there is begrudgery there against Dublin.

“People have a rivalry against Dublin, which his healthy, they’re the capital, they’re successful. I mean there is rivalry against Kilkenny, I’m quite sure if Galway keep going the way they’re going, there will be a rivalry against Galway.

“Dublin never look on it as begrudgery, look you’ve got to live in the real world, when you’re up there you are always going to be challenged and you have to live with that.”

Donegal weren’t represented at yesterday’s launch as the county prepares to face off in their opening Super 8 Group 2 game in Croke Park this Saturday. They sought and received a meeting with GAA officials last week about the use of the stadium as both a home and a neutral venue for Dublin.

“I don’t think Donegal’s real gripe is about Dublin necessarily playing in Croke Park,” Horan said. 

“I think Donegal’s probable frustration is the actual structure of the games that their first game is in Croke Park, I think that is part of their problem.

“I think it’s more the arrangement of the games, that their first game happens to be against a provincial champion. Some people are making that point, that maybe the provincial champions shouldn’t play off against each other in the first set of matches, that they should all get a home game in the first set of matches. This is a debate that needs to be held. Look, I think Donegal felt they had to express a view on the matter.”

Horan, who was Leinster chairman when it was decided Dublin’s provincial quarter-final was brought out of Croke Park three years ago, a practice which has continued, said he was reluctant as a Dubliner to discuss whether the stadium has been an advantage for Jim Gavin’s side.

“No matter what I say in that debate it’s always going to be seen I’m going to say something with a bit of a shade of blue on my back.

“So I’m going to leave that to others, but we will resolve any of those issues.”

He continued: “You’re talking to the one man that did take Dublin out of Croke Park when I was chairman of the Leinster Council, and they’ve remained out of Croke Park. I mean Dublin have never complained as to where they have ever been asked to play, so I’m quite sure if Dublin were fixed to play in Thurles, Dublin would play in Thurles and they’d be the last county to complain.

“When Dublin were caught last year against Tipperary down there, (county chairman) Seán Shanley spoke out but not in any strong manner, they went ahead and played the game, there was no protest. Even though that was listed as a neutral venue they did play Tipperary in Thurles.”

Horan pointed out that Dublin’s presence in Croke Park has benefitted other counties financially. “To quote one of Dublin’s least greatest fans, Colm O’Rourke, the playing of matches in Croke Park by Dublin benefits an awful lot of other counties in Leinster from the funding that’s raised and the benefits they get from infrastructure grants and coaching.”

On the matter of developments in recent weeks such as the staging of the Kildare-Mayo third round SFC qualifier game in Newbridge’s St Conleth’s Park, Horan felt the GAA have now moved on from the controversy. 

“There were difficulties but I think we’ve addressed them. I think the sensible thing would be in the calm light of day to settle down and just see are there are any tweaks we may be able to apply to just improve things, for the player, the spectator, and the competitions overall.”

The CCCC have yet to announce which day Cork and Galway will play their All-Ireland SHC semi-finals over the July 28/29 weekend and which weekend days the second and third round of the Super 8 have yet to be confirmed.

Horan acknowledged the committee have had a job on their hands this year with the new Championship structure and schedule.

“I think that will be addressed in the next 48 hours and you will get all of those fixtures laid out, in fairness to them. I think they’ve been faced with a big challenge this year.

“I always liken it to going back to my days as a schoolteacher: you get a new textbook and you go through it and you think it’s absolutely wonderful but you only really get to know the meat of it when you actually go and teach it. And I think it’s only when we roll out all of these fixtures that we’ll actually get a full feel for some of the difficulties that were unforeseen when we set out on that road.”

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