GAA made big mistake opening Croke Park to 'cuckoo' rugby

Ten years after the GAA first opened its gates to rugby, John Arnold, an opponent to Rule 42 amendment, says the move was a tactical error that will haunt the GAA.

Seán Kelly outlined in his book how he changed the seating plan in 2005 to swing the vote in his favour. It reminded me of how Tadhg Kennelly wrote about how he went out to hit Nicholas Murphy in the 2009 football final. It was bad enough that he hit him in the first place but, like Kelly, he felt it was necessary to double the injury.

At the time, the GAA was seen as being ecumenical and magnanimous but the downside of it is that all you have to say is the great winner has been Irish rugby. Maybe not at club level but at international level they have benefited hugely, not just from the act of it opening but the huge financial boost generated by the extra 20,000 seats in Croke Park.

The GAA got a great slap on the shoulder and told “well done” for helping a needy neighbour, but was there any great benefit?

Kelly spoke about millions going to the GAA and it being ringfenced for the clubs, but I haven’t spoken to one club treasurer who saw any of it. I hope I don’t sound bitter because I’m not — I just feel it wasn’t the right decision. As the late Con Murphy said at the time, were we an association that caters for everything and stands for nothing?

The greatest proof of that came when games other than Six Nations matches and soccer qualifiers were played there.

The GAA was told to open up Croke Park because Lansdowne Road was being renovated and if they said no, then the matches going outside the country would be a loss to the economy.

Like the Treaty of Limerick, the ink wasn’t dry when there were practice matches there. Now you have the possibility of several of the GAA’s major stadiums opening up for a potential Rugby World Cup.

The rugby people are clever; they are a cuckoo organisation. They will put the money generated from it into coaching at schools and sure, when they want a pitch the dear old GAA will provide it to them.

They’re not repaying debts for stadiums like we are. The GAA might make €30m, €40m, €50m from it but the rugby stand to make double, no doubt. We’re all fishing from the same pool in terms of players and we’ll be giving sporting rivals the chance to plough serious money into convincing them to play their sports instead.

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Read More:
eight more recollections of the day Croke Park first opened its gates to rugby.


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