Sean Kelly: Rugby and soccer will return to Croke Park

Former GAA President Sean Kelly believes rugby and soccer internationals will return to Croke Park when the IRFU and FAI’s 10-year exclusive tie-in with the Aviva Stadium expires.

Ten years ago this week at GAA Congress Kelly presided over the controversial amendment of Rule 42 that allowed Croke Park host soccer and rugby matches while the Lansdowne Road venue was being redeveloped.

GAA headquarters has not staged a rugby or soccer game since the Aviva Stadium reopened in 2010 and both the IRFU and FAI signed up to an agreement to play all home games there up until 2020.

However, in an extensive and exclusive interview with tomorrow’s Irish Examiner to mark the 10th anniversary of that historic 2005 Congress, Kelly maintains that Croke Park’s bigger capacity will see the return of rugby as well as soccer there well before a potential 2023 Rugby World Cup.

“I’d say when the Aviva commitment is over they’ll be back again.

“Croke Park is opened up permanently now. Five years ago my own club Kilcummin put forward a motion to that effect.

“It went through without any objection, so much so, most people don’t even know it is open permanently now.

“They (the IRFU and FAI) know they’d make a lot more money by having 82,000 at a match instead of 50,000. I’d be surprised if it [the return of soccer and rugby to Croke Park] didn’t happen.”

Kelly had to withstand a lot of criticism and obstacles in ensuring the amendment of Rule 42 made, let alone succeeded at, that 2005 GAA Congress.

But the now Fine Gael MEP believes his stance as well as the decision taken by delegates that day has been subsequently justified.

“The goodwill the GAA received for that couldn’t be bought. Alternatively, the GAA would have got huge stick when the (soccer and rugby international) games would have been played abroad.

“We’d have lost a lot of support, not just from individuals but what we might call Corporate Ireland. Sponsors. Business people. And government as well.”

Indeed he finds a certain irony that the Cork county board, who fiercely disapproved of Kelly’s championing of the opening of Croke Park, are now themselves due a €30m government grant to the redevelopment of their own stadium on the understanding it would be available were Ireland to host a Rugby World Cup.

“There’s no way it would have been politically acceptable to give €30m to Páirc Uí Chaoimh if Croke Park hadn’t been opened.”

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