Harte: opening Croker to foreign games has been a success

TYRONE manager Mickey Harte has declared the opening of Croke Park to soccer and rugby a huge success, despite having voiced his opposition to the move when the restrictions were first being lifted.

The temporary arrangement will come to an end after the forthcoming Six Nations tournament in which GAA headquarters will play host to Italy’s visit tomorrow as well as that of Wales and Scotland.

“I think it has worked well,’’ Harte conceded. “Despite the strongly held reservations by some, which they’re entitled to have, ultimately it worked well. It raised the profile of the GAA on a world stage, which I like. It gave people a chance to understand that this stadium is here and who owns it and who runs it. Most of all, perhaps, it has given the opportunity for club players to play in Croke Park, which they weren’t getting before this happened.

“I think every All-Ireland final should be in Croke Park. To think there’s a junior hurling team from Tyrone (Naomh Colmcille) going to play in Croke Park in an All-Ireland final, that is an added bonus of opening up Croke Park to other sports.”

Though the IRFU and FAI have agreed to play their senior internationals exclusively at the Aviva Stadium for a 10-year period, a motion at this year’s GAA Congress will seek to leave the door open for the stadium to be rented out.

Harte is of the opinion that the option of hosting one-off occasions should not be closed off in the years to come.

“I would leave that to those in a position to deal with that. If they think it’s the right thing to do and if it’s a profitable way to move forward and we’ve got over the dilemma of ‘should you or shouldn’t you’ then it’s certainly an option I would leave in the hands of those who make those decisions.”

Meanwhile, Harte has expressed his doubts about the new Fair Play Index which has been introduced by the GAA for the forthcoming National Football and Hurling Leagues.

Introduced to encourage greater levels of discipline on the pitch, the scheme will see teams pick up points for every yellow and red card received during the competition.

The counties in hurling and football with the least number of points will each be rewarded €10,000 but Harte is of the opinion that the end table will not be an accurate reflection of which team are saints and which are sinners.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I would welcome consistency in the application of the rules currently in existence and less tinkering with the ones that are there. That is what I would welcome more than anything. It is a very subjective thing, this whole fair play thing.”

While the GAA’s focus will be on those teams which pick up the fewest points, it seems inevitable other parties will focus instead on who is punished with the most and end up leading a so-called table of shame.

“I don’t know if I’d go as strong as that but I think there’s too many variables involved there, as indeed as there are in some of the attempted new rules we’re going to have to deal with.

“The whole idea is to make life easier for the referee, to be more definitive in what needs to happen and what doesn’t need to happen but some of the things we’ve introduced, like the mark, does quite the opposite.

“It gives the opportunity for more subjective judgment from the referee and I have seen that to date in the games we’ve played so I think we’ve made life more difficult for the referee.”

Harte, meanwhile, has handed debuts to two of his talented young recruits for tomorrow’s NFL opener against Derry at Celtic Park.

Kyle Coney starts in the half forward line, while Ronan McNabb gets a spot at wing back. Both were members of the Red Hand minor team whch won the All-Ireland title in 2008. Johnny Curran, who had an impressive Dr McKenna Cup campaign, keeps his place in goal ahead of experienced pair John Devine and Pascal McConnell, with the latter named among the subs.

TYRONE: J Curran; M Swift, Justin McMahon, Joe McMahon; D Carlin, C Gormley, R McNabb; A Cassidy, K Hughes; K Coney, B McGuigan, E McGinley; C Cavanagh, M Penrose T McGuigan.

DERRY: B Gillis; B óg McAlary, G O’Kane, D McBride; C Kielt, M Lynch, L Hinphey; F Doherty, P Bradley; C O’Boyle, J Kielt, A Mc Cartney; S Bradley, E Bradley, R Wilkinson.

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