GAA’s stadium building boom illogical and irresponsible

Firstly, hats off to Paul Rouse for his piece yesterday in the Irish Examiner on GAA grounds and the manner in which the association builds and uses them. 
GAA’s stadium building boom illogical and irresponsible

Or doesn’t, as the latter case may be. Nothing he wrote will be disputed here but the issue is one with multiple angles of approach, so allow us to address this from a slightly different route.

Last Friday, two stories appeared in the sports section of this very newspaper and, while they were written independently, they were in fact linked intimately. The first was on Limerick county secretary Mike O’Riordan’s report to county convention, the other pertained to Ger Loughnane’s treatise on the state of the Munster Championship.

O’Riordan’s report was wide- ranging but the section that made most headlines was his assertion the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, redeveloped recently at a cost of €12m, was becoming a financial “burden” on the county, given the paucity of games at the venue able to attract more than 10,000 people.

The Gaelic Grounds
The Gaelic Grounds

The only fixture to result in anything like what could be deemed a decent crowd was the Munster hurling semi-final between Limerick and Tipperary, which drew 31,488 punters in June. So bad is the situation, with lack of games and dismal attendances, O’Riordan even called into question the wisdom of hosting some national league games there in the future.

And so to Loughnane.

His gripe? Why, a lack of games, as it happened. The former Clare manager echoed the point made by many when decrying the five-year gap suffered by Tipperary in mid-summer and he made the rock solid argument that everyone is being short-changed by the drip-feed of hurling action at the height of the championship.

“The secret to me is home and away (games in Munster),” he explained.

“If you look at why the U21 competition is so successful, it’s not so much that it’s knockout. It’s played in summertime, in provincial grounds, in front of home crowds. Not every game has to be on at half-three on a Sunday. There is huge potential there.”

None of this is light-bulb moment stuff.

By increasing the amount of championship games, and playing them on dates set in stone in a national fixtures list, they would increase their footprint on the wider sporting landscape, give players more matches while reducing training sessions, free up designated weekends for club action and utilise stadia that stand, right now, as a herd of decaying white elephants.

This column has railed before about the GAA’s dartboard approach to its stadia and O’Riordan’s report highlights again the lack of joined-up thinking when it comes to the construction or use of venues which are draining badly-needed cash from the coffers of county boards with every passing year.

The most laughable example of this is the Leinster Council’s use of the venues under its umbrella. O’Moore Park in Portlaoise is another stadium to have received significant seven- figure sums for redevelopment and yet the powers-that-be decided last month that it wasn’t up to the task of hosting the Dublin footballers next June.

O’Moore Park is not perfect — forgive our self-interest but the press box must be the most awful of its type in the country — but it is one of the best grounds in the GAA’s locker and it is ideally situated beside a main motorway in a town serviced by a train station and on a main line that connects Dublin with Cork.

It was impossible not to think of that decision last week when Leinster Council chairman John Horan was raising again the possibility of a 40,000-seater stadium being built at the vacant Junction 8 on the M50. This is the same M50 already on the way to a state of hair-tearing congestion not seen since the economy crashed in 2009, by the way.

Leave even that minor detail aside for a moment and it is clear the GAA and its various sub-units would be far better served figuring out a means by which they could prevent their current stadia from withering away into a state of decay than by building more grounds which may be used to something approaching capacity once or twice a year.

The GAA does so much right but, in this, they could not be more misguided. Strategic reports have been emanating from Croke Park with the regularity of weather bulletins for some time now and yet no-one appears to have thought it an idea to sit down and reflect on where we are going with all the bricks and mortar.

Paul Rouse admitted he was probably being too kind when he stated the logic of the GAA’s thinking in this regard isn’t always clear. It is much, much worse than that. Boil it all down and they are green-lighting yet more stadium projects in Dublin, Cork and Belfast when those they have are acting as nooses around the necks of county boards.

What is that if not downright irresponsible?

Email: brendan.obrien@examiner.ieTwitter: @Rackob

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