By John Fogarty
Kildare president Seamus Aldridge is surprised, given Ned Quinn’s previous experience in Kilkenny, that the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) chairman decided the county can’t host their All-Ireland SFC qualifier against Mayo in St Conleth’s Park on Saturday because of capacity issues.
Reports last night suggested the GAA and the Kildare County Board were to meet about the stand-off, despite Kildare’s insistence the game be played in Newbridge. Earlier in the day, Quinn had explained the decision was made because of health and safety concerns and the less-than-9,000 capacity of St Conleth’s Park.
Aldridge claimed Quinn, who was Kilkenny chairman in 2013, fought successfully to ensure his county enjoyed the home advantage against Tipperary in that summer’s All-Ireland SHC qualifier in the face of calls for it to be moved to a bigger stadium.
The game was a sell-out, attracting a 23,307 crowd and Quinn at the time said: “The place holds 24,000. We could have sold all of those tickets in Kilkenny and Tipperary could have filled it themselves as well.”
Aldridge remarked: “We’re being penalised because Croke Park couldn’t do their business properly. They’re not covering themselves in glory. The thing that’s more important than the Kildare viewpoint is that the GAA has lost contact with the grassroots, but that’s been happening over the last five-to-10 years.
“I’m surprised that my friend Ned Quinn said what he said when he didn’t say the same thing when Kilkenny and Tipperary were involved a few years ago.
Aldridge said the matter is the only topic of conversation in Kildare, but queried why the voices of his own county board haven’t been heard.
“It’s a sad time for the GAA. I was up in town (Naas) and about 20 people stopped me to say we were dead right to stick by our guns and that the others were so wrong. It’s unreal. That’s the way it’s seen in Kildare.
“I can’t see what it’s got to do with Cian O’Neill, only that he manages the Kildare team. He doesn’t speak for the county board. The county chairman should be speaking for Kildare, not Cian O’Neill, but that’s not happening.”
The Michael Slattery report, conducted and completed during Christy Cooney’s time as GAA president, meant several GAA stadia had their capacities reduced, including St Conleth’s Park, but Aldridge doesn’t believe that fits in with the new Super 8 model.
“It’s a short number of years (2001) since there was 18,000 at a Kildare-Donegal match in Newbridge and it was the best evening in Newbridge in 100 years. All the grounds in the country were caught by the decision under Cooney and the worries about safety and I don’t know whether it was an attempt to make county boards upgrade their grounds, which would have happened anyway.
Former All-Ireland SFC referee and county secretary Aldridge hasn’t missed a Kildare championship match in over 60 years and would hate to believe a walkover will be the outcome of this fixture.
“It’s a long time between now and Saturday evening and I hope somebody knocks some heads together and they come up with a resolution where both sides can keep their dignity. What would have happened if Mayo were in this situation and they couldn’t have the game in Castlebar? But I tell you this much: If Garth Brooks was in Croke Park this weekend the question of what we’re talking about wouldn’t arise at all.”
Tickets remain on sale for the game in Croke Park, with Meath’s David Gough having been appointed to take charge of the game.
On KFM radio yesterday, O’Neill said the health and safety argument made by the GAA was a “convenient untruth”.
Sky Sports released a statement in which they said they would be prepared to show the games outside Croke Park, while former Disputes Resolution Authority and Irish Examiner columnist Jack Anderson said Kildare would have a strong case were they to go down the legal route.
He wrote on Twitter: “While CCCC has wide discretionary powers (that usually can’t be appealed) under GAA rules, the GAA Official Guide has expressly and clearly limited the CCCC’s powers in rounds 1-3 of the qualifiers and it must give Kildare home advantage.
“If @KildareGAA go for injunctive relief in the courts, they look like they have a good arguable case and would get it on the above grounds. CCCC are not in any way willfully breaching the Guide, doing their best, just more restricted than normal by Guide and haven’t realised.”
This story was first published in the Irish Examiner.