Rugby World Cup bid a no-brainer for the GAA

We put a call into an opponent of the opening of Croke Park last Tuesday. What did he make of the GAA’s heavy involvement in the Rugby World Cup bid? “Not much,” he said, “and don’t be quoting me.” Still, he wanted to give his take on the news.
Rugby World Cup bid a no-brainer for the GAA

He revealed he hadn’t visited Croke Park since the arrival of the rugby and soccer ranks to GAA HQ in 2007.

Never mind that, he stated he hadn’t darkened the entrance of his county grounds in three years. He complained Amhrán na bhFiann isn’t sung at away rugby internationals and questioned the prominence of Fine Gael among the leadership of the GAA. He didn’t use the words “Fine Gael” — his language wasn’t so varnished —but his point was clear.

Whatever about his opinion on the latter, which is a contentious one, his other views are shared in quarters by those who abide by the late GAA president Con Murphy’s warning in 2005 the association “caters for everything and stands for nothing”.

Giving a rival sport such a platform would rank as bat-proverbial crazy were it not for the fact it’s a win-win situation for the GAA and the IRFU.

On most counts, the pragmatism of that overwhelming decision of Congress in 2012 to back the GAA’s involvement in the bid (93%) wins out against principle.

There is the considerable financial aspect but there is also the ample goodwill and political capital attached to the deed.

If Ireland does get the green light in 12 months’ time to host the Rugby World Cup, international curiosity about Gaelic games will be piqued. It will be asked over and over how could such a small island where rugby ranks as the third most popular sport (source: Pembroke Slattery Group survey, 2014) can be able to facilitate a world event?

It was noticeable how much Gaelic games featured in the bid’s promotional video last week.

A more insular organisation than the IRFU may have chosen to leave references to the GAA on the cutting floor but they didn’t. A more insular organisation than the GAA would have denied the IRFU their stadia but they didn’t.

The GAA clearly aren’t worried about giving their competitors a leg-up. Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment steering group chairman Bob Ryan said he hoped the stadium may play host to New Zealand in seven years time. Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn tweeted: “Delighted that Nowlan Park has been included in Ireland’s Rugby World Cup bid. Great boost for Kilkenny if it happens.”

As early as 2000, Quinn and Kilkenny were of the mind Croke Park should be opened to other sports. In a straw poll of delegates at that year’s convention, almost 82% of them backed the idea. Cork, of course, were against the amendment to Rule 42 but would now admit their fears about what it might precipitate were unfounded.

Money, of course, changes opinions too. But for the opening of Croke Park, €30m of Government funds would not be made available for Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

But for it, the Cork County Board may not be so close to having the stadium paid off. But for it and in turn this bid, Casement Park’s redevelopment would be next to nigh on impossible.

Rugby has been good to Gaelic games as Gaelic games have been to rugby. It’s widely known the GAA’s relations with the IRFU would be much better than those with the FAI. The GAA’s negotiations about staging rugby matches in Croke Park were a breeze compared to the deals that had to be squared to host soccer internationals.

That both the GAA and IRFU are 32 county organisations helps a lot. They mighn’t dream the same thing or want the same thing but they work with the same thing.

Last week wasn’t without some miscommunication, though. Many in Tipperary and larger GAA circles felt Semple Stadium was certain to be included in the provisional list of host stadia.

When it wasn’t, there was no little amount of surprise. A lack of hotels may be the ultimate issue but then how could a rugby game even try and emulate the Liberty Square experience?

We’re being facetious on that count but there are things Gaelic games has that rugby will never emulate. We’ve written before about hurling being the modern day equivalent of Roman games: something people love to watch but not so much play. But then rugby is the 21st century’s version of Rome’s harpastum.

Saturday’s game between Ireland and New Zealand was absorbing to plenty but frightening to those parents who saw Robbie Henshaw and CJ Stander make way with head injuries and Rob Kearney later be suspected of the same.

The 11 incidents sent to the match commissioner for review may be unprecedented but it tells an accurate tale of how ferociously cynical rugby has become.

Currently, rugby is the 10th most played sport in the Republic of Ireland (Irish Sports Monitor survey, 2014).

The dangers involved in participation will prevent it from making much ground on football and hurling in sixth place, which still have room to tidy up their acts too but not as much as the oval ball game.

And that’s not to consider the membership monopoly the GAA enjoys. As long as it recognises the worth of local, it will be fine.

Improving their principal stadia with other people’s money so that they can direct their finances to coaching and development?

That ain’t bat-proverbial crazy. More like bat-proverbial savvy.

Galway deserve better

Earlier this month, former Galway manager Jarlath Cloonan spoke passionately to this newspaper about what he perceived to be his county’s mistreatment at the hands of Leinster. It was he who first raised the prospect of approaching Munster to join them instead.

Before taking a phone call, Cloonan initially made his sentiments known in an email. “Galway hurling should now be fully integrated into Leinster and because of the county’s unique position try something new (should be tried),” he wrote.

“The failure to see the opportunities playing top class hurling championship games in a city like Galway on a regular basis would do for the game of hurling, is unbelievable.”

Ennis’s Cusack Park and especially Waterford’s Walsh Park have also been denied plenty of championship fare but for largely logistical reasons. Pearse Stadium may not be easy to get to and games there can too often be dictated by the elements but it remains a suitable stadium in which to host games.

By next year it will be seven seasons since Galway last enjoyed a home championship game. For a county with the capability of staging most SHC matches, that’s a galling statistic. But then that is only part of the problem.

Once accommodating, Leinster now treat Galway as second-class citizens, happy to host their money-spinning seniors but fearful of their underage strength.

If a resolution can’t be found with Leinster, it will be a victory for self-interest. It won’t just be a defeat for Galway, but for hurling.

GAA left dangling again as AFL rule the roost

Yesterday’s news that Ireland and Australia will renew the two test series Down Under in November next year had been touted for quite some time.

For the travelling party, it will make the long journey more worthwhile and after the success of the one test occasions in Perth in 2014 and Dublin last year it’s the correct decision.

What doesn’t feel so right is that the GAA were once again left dangling by their Australian counterparts.

It wasn’t just referee Eddie Kinsella who was of the understanding the trip to Australia was to take place this year: Joe Kernan’s management team fully expected to be heading that way too.

But just like 2009, the AFL pulled out with the GAA able to do nothing but be patient.

For Kinsella, who was set to officiate but now can’t as he will be over the age limit in 2017, it’s a shame but in the grander scheme of things it again highlights that it’s the professional organisation who call most, if not all, of the shots.

In truth, the GAA haven’t shown the same enthusiasm as the AFL to arrange a test in the US and the 2019 series will take place in Ireland.

But as their clubs’ scouting of the best Gaelic football talent indicates, if the AFL don’t already hold the aces they’ll take them.

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