From Scunthorpe to Croke Park

THE country’s elite GAA players wouldn’t be running out onto the green, green grass of home at Croke Park when the stadium’s new pitch is in place next month.

Grass from Scunthorpe in England will be shipped over the Irish Sea to replace the old surface at GAA headquarters which has been dug up in preparation for U2’s 360° Tour shows in the capital this weekend.

Stadium Director Peter McKenna last night confirmed: “The turf comes from a farm in Scunthorpe.

“Before you or your readers fall of the chairs this decision was reached after an extensive testing process.

“We looked at a number of farms around the world, including one in Slovakia which provided the pitch for the Champions League final.

“We were looking at the best turf for our games, studying things like ball bounce, traction, tensile strength, grass cover and on and on. These are criteria which we test on a regular basis and we were very happy with the Scunthorpe product.’’

And he revealed that the new grass has been secretly road-tested.

“We have done this already. After the Take That concert we replaced about 20% of the pitch.

“Nobody was any the wiser and there was no reduction in quality. It played extremely well on Sunday for the Leinster finals and in the week leading up to that we had three hurling games on Saturday and 1,600 kids in here playing in provincial blitz.”

A team of diggers and dump trucks began their work within hours of the final whistle in the Leinster final. The grass and approximately nine inches of the surfaces was swept away, to be replaced in the short-term by covering ahead of the three weekend concerts. Then the hard work begins again for McKenna, the contractors and the ground staff.

“After the concert is over, the turf is harvested and transported over in refrigerated containers. U2 will finish on Monday night at 11pm. There is an approximate 42-hour period required for the stage to come down which will take us through to Wednesday. We will start laying the turf as parts of the pitch become available to us. But from Wednesday to Friday we will be working round the clock on getting the new pitch in place. We have a lot of work put into this and tested the procedures. We expect everything to run smoothly. We are confident without being smug.”

He vowed: “It will be as good as ever. Come 2010 we would have to replace the pitch anyway. But this new timeline has been foisted upon us by the U2 concert. It is a huge logistical exercise but one we are capable of achieving.

“But as I said we have already replaced a section of the pitch and no one, players or spectators were any the wiser.

“We are not flying in blind in case anyone is worried about doing this at the meaty end of the championship.

“We are fully confident that the pitch will be in perfect condition for the start of August and the run in to the All-Ireland finals.”

U2 are reputedly picking up the €1m tag for the work.

Meanwhile Munster Council chairman Jimmy O’Gorman has urged the GAA to tackle the problem of post-match pitch invasions. Supporters raced onto the Croke Park and Semple Stadium surfaces following the Leinster SFC and Munster SHC finals on Sunday and O’Gorman admitted the association has a duty to exercise care for spectators.

O’Gorman said: “After match celebrations have always been part and parcel of the association but it’s a health and safety issue. It’s something that we have to implement and you will see a day soon when you won’t see people on the pitch.

“The GAA will have to work hard on this and we have to do it because we have been close to having one or two serious accidents. We need to listen to the health and safety people because they are the experts and this is what they’re telling us. We have to care for our supporters and be conscious that they arrive and exit our grounds safely.”

O’Gorman, meanwhile, has admitted that the attendance of 40,330 for last Sunday’s Munster hurling final fell slightly below pre-match expectations. But he was pleased to report increased crowd figures for the provincial senior football championship, while the hurling remained consistent with 2008 records.

O’Gorman said: “Our football figures are way up. Last year we had 44,000 but this year, that’s up to 92,000, with a replay included. 140,000 patrons attended the Munster senior hurling championship matches, compared with 137,000 last year. In the present climate, I’m fully conscious of the fact that an awful lot of people I know can’t afford to go because of their circumstances. In light of that, we have tried to do our bit and ticket prices have not been increased for the last four years while 4,000 family tickets were available to the respective counties.”

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