With Croke Park unavailable due to pitch repairs, the CCCC took the decision to play the Division One league final between Derry and Kerry at the 10,000-capacity Parnell Park. The second division decider between Dublin and Westmeath will take place in Navan on the Saturday evening.
“It’s doing an injustice to Allianz and their sponsorship,” said Crozier who contrasted this weekend’s fixture list with the decision last year to have Dublin and Tyrone to open the league under lights at a full Croke Park.
“I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t have been a double header in Croke Park with ourselves and Kerry and Dublin and Westmeath. It would have been nearly a full house.”
Croke Park was never an option. The stadium has been closed for repairs to the pitch since March 18 and will not reopen for business until May 18 for a Leinster football championship double-header.
The GAA has consistently reasoned that, after a heavy period of use in the first three months of the year, the surface at the ground was in urgent need of extensive work but Crozier is adamant that the league has not been shown due respect.
“That day was set in stone from day one, April 27, the National League finals. The GAA should have taken that into account. I don’t know why Croke Park is closed. We can have rugby and soccer and pop concerts in it but our players want to play in Croke Park. There is all this talk about keeping the grassroots happy. Our players would have loved to play in Croke Park.”
Kerry manager Pat O’Shea had his own issues with the logistics.
“The venues may have been done better,” he said. “There were a couple of very attractive venues and the pairings could have been different. We had no issue with going to Croke Park or Portlaoise for a double header with Dublin and Westmeath. If we are going to Parnell Park for quarter past two to avoid the rugby game it’s not exactly helping supporters to travel. Putting on a 3.30pm game would have been the same difference. A 2.15pm game doesn’t change the situation.”
O’Shea also admitted that the general perception among most supporters and many teams is that promotion and relegation, and not the prospect of a league final, are increasingly the be all and end all where the league is concerned. Kerry, he claims, is not one of those counties and he quashes the idea that any team playing this weekend will be somehow reigning themselves in with one eye on the summer.
“People asked about Donegal learning lessons from winning the title last year but everyone wants to win a national competition. I don’t think Derry are not going to want to win Sunday in order to get a good run in the championship. Logic doesn’t work that way. Getting a win Sunday would give them a great stepping stone to the championship. I’m sure Donegal would not give back their title if they could retrace their steps last year.”
Venues and timing aren’t the only factors pushing the Division One final down the week’s list of priorities.
Already shunted metaphorically into the shadows by Munster’s European appointment, the top tier decider was relegated to the sidelines quite literally again yesterday at the Radisson Hotel in Stillorgan. Press conference protocol would normally see the first division managers seated at the centre of the top table for such Q&As but, on this occasion, the pair hugged the extremities of the lineup. All attention was focused instead on Paul Caffrey.
One token question on venues aside, the first dozen minutes of yesterday’s launch were dominated by the Dublin-Meath fallout — a virtual eternity in the context of such occasions.
When he was finally asked, tongue firmly in cheek, if he was happy to approach the lengthening evenings so far under the radar, O’Shea opted to meet the query with a straight bat.
“The league has gone well for us. We really wanted to just be competitive this year as there were eight very strong teams in that division. We knew we would get seven very tough games, which is how it turned out. We lost two of those games, one to a last-minute goal and one to a last-minute point. Getting competitive games in the league is hugely important. The final has been a bonus. I felt that Galway and Derry were the two best teams in Division One but our win up in Galway has given us the opportunity to get to the league final. This is an opportunity to get an extra quality game under our belt before the championship.”
Derry certainly promise that. The Ulster side has been building up a head of steam and, fair play to Crozier, he isn’t one to talk his team down.
“We have to be All-Ireland challengers, there is no doubt about that,” he admitted when quizzed on their championship credentials. “We have brought through a number of minors from the All-Ireland team of 2002.
“We have a good mixture of youth and experience with seven or eight players who have been there a long time. Now is the time to step up. It’s important to beat one of the bigger teams like the Kerrys or Dublins in order to take that step forward.”