2005 Congress will decide to open up Croke Park, says Seán Walsh

KERRY GAA chairman Seán Walsh believes next year's GAA Congress will take the landmark decision to open up Croke Park to soccer and rugby.

It was time to "bring closure" to the matter, he told delegates at last night's county convention at the Brandon Hotel - saying a change of policy should involve Croke Park only.

"Our association has never shirked its responsibility in relation to removing rules that were no longer necessary for the good of the association and I believe congress 2005 should prove to be another milestone in that regard," he said.

Expressing disappointment that the matter had not been debated at this year's congress in Killarney, Mr Walsh noted that the change agreed at the recent special congress (which will facilitate the correct framing of motions), should guarantee a debate next April.

Meantime, the Government's decision to pay over the money promised in respect of the completion of the final phase of the Croke Park redevelopment had been the only action open to them, he said.

It was a recognition of the contribution made by countless volunteers over the last 100 years to the development of our youth and the "massive achievement" by an amateur organisation in building one of the finest stadiums in Europe. Echoing the views of county secretary Eamonn O'Sullivan, the chairman criticised the method of disbursing central funds, saying training teams had become a very expensive business. It was time for an immediate review of grants paid to teams which contested All-Ireland finals.

"While I totally accept that we are part of the GAA that netted €4m (for the final) the return for the county's expenses is totally unacceptable. Astronomical cost increases in preparing county teams - due to the number of players allowed on senior county panels, a rise in travelling expenses and a rise in the cost of providing complimentary tickets - are practically all at the expense of county boards.

"With no team in the All-Ireland final in 2003 and with two teams in the 2004 All-Ireland finals (senior and minor) we as a county received a mere €17,000 extra from a e4m gate.

"While playing in an All-Ireland final is the ultimate goal and honour for any county, the financial remuneration to the county board expenses from headquarters should reflect at least the costs incurred in getting to an All-Ireland final. The county committee cannot continue to carry the burden for the biggest payday of the year for the GAA."

Victory in the All-Ireland championship had been the result of "meticulous planning, dedication and a willingness to work hard" by the management team and a very willing panel of players, he commented, achieved on the back of 11 months of hard work. And, in also winning the League and the Munster championship, the team had restored faith not only in Kerry football but in the game in general - through a return to an attractive free-flowing game. "Twelve months ago pundits were proclaiming the death of football, as we knew it. We are delighted that it took a Kerry team to restore the pride in Gaelic football," he added. "The countless hours honing the skills of this team were well spent. To Jack O'Connor and his selectors Ger O'Keeffe and Johnny Culloty we owe a huge debt of gratitude. They worked tirelessly and effectively to ensure that everything would be right on the day. And, being faced with what looked like insurmountable obstacles such as injuries to major players at critical times didn't deter or diminish their enthusiasm towards finding a winning formula. Along with Pat Flanagan, who brought a whole new dimension to training Kerry teams, they worked brilliantly as a team."

In sharp contrast, a lack of commitment from key players undid all the good work done with the hurling panel over the last couple of years. He had repeatedly said that progress would only be made when all the players of inter-county standard made themselves, but that hadn't happened this year.

"I believe that everything that is required for the preparation of the team was in place. There were no shortcuts and the dedication and enthusiasm of Maurice Leahy was not matched by some players. The players that travelled to Cork to play Cork are to be complimented. It would have been a lot easier to stay at home. We can pontificate all we want about Kerry hurling and the state of the county team, but, until there is a change of mind-set by the unwilling players to give the commitment to the county as they give to their clubs, then this will not change."

He sounded a note of warning about an alarming rate of physical development at club level, pointing out that around €3m had been spent this year. Player/spectator comfort was paramount, but came at a very high cost. "We have to be careful and ensure the balancing act between physical development and games development is kept right and that the skills of our games are not neglected to the advancement of bricks and mortar."

In response to recent publicity, the chairman said they were happy to accept the contributions towards the team holiday fund from Bank of Ireland, the Munster Council and the Central Council to the tune of €80,000. The players decided to sell the official framed team photo to supplement these contributions, he said. He also acknowledged the contribution of their sponsors, Kerry Group.

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