Aogán Farrell: There should always be state assistance to upgrade our grounds

The GAA should receive the substantial Government funding earmarked for its stadia as part of the 2023 Rugby World Cup bid.
Aogán Farrell: There should always be state assistance to upgrade our grounds

That’s the opinion of GAA president Aogán Farrell, who stressed it is in the country’s best interests to ensure the organisation’s network of stadia are updated.

Farrell, in Australia for the International Rules series, spoke of the GAA’s “generous” decision to make its venues available to the IRFU in its bid to win the right to host the tournament in 2023.

Had the proposal been accepted by World Rugby this week, the GAA would have benefitted from further significant funding.

Páirc Uí Chaoimh’s redevelopment was aided by €30m of Government money on the understanding it would be among the stadia for RWC 2023 had France not won the vote this week.

“It (the bid) couldn’t have happened if the GAA had said ‘no, our grounds won’t be available’,” Farrell pointed out.

“The fact that it isn’t happening is disappointing for Ireland. If it’s disappointing for Ireland, then we are disappointed.

“We always find resources to upgrade our grounds. It would have been nice if this had happened.

“I would argue that there should always be state assistance to upgrade our grounds. If you look at Australia, if you look at every country, and I visit a lot of them, they’re all heavily funded in facility terms. If you took the GAA infrastructure out of Ireland, there is very little sporting infrastructure. Wipe out the GAA and what sporting facilities do we have left? I believe there is a strong case for the level of funding that was promised at Government level. That should continue.”

Although the GAA are planning to invest in an updated Walsh Park, so it can host Munster SHC round-robin games, Farrell believes there is a dearth of top-quality stadia in the northern half of the country.

“We have good facilities, but we are never complacent. We want to continue to improve facilities we have and continue to be sensible about the spread of them. We have, in parts of the island, a little bit of an overload, but we want to keep them at a high level and the Government should, I believe, be always investing in sporting facilities like the GAA.”

He accepts the long-delayed process to reconstruct Casement Park would have been aided by a successful RWC bid, though the issue is at a judicial stage at the moment.

“Look at the map of Ireland, we have a dearth of facilities north of a line between Galway and Dublin. We have a little bit of an overload south of that line, but we certainly need more in that north half of Ireland and Casement is key to that and the whole project of Casement wasn’t just about Belfast and Antrim and Ulster. It’s about that whole region, which needs a top-class facility. The GAA will be committed, as it always was to Casement. Of course, things like the Rugby World Cup would have helped — there’s no point pretending that not getting it doesn’t matter, it does — but the approach will continue.”

Tyrone and Ireland International Rules goalkeeper Niall Morgan last week expressed his fear that the changes to the 2018 calendar will prevent inter-county footballers in his county from lining out in league games.

Farrell acknowledges not everything can be perfect — “we can’t make Utopia” — but he rejected Morgan’s argument.

“They won’t impact negatively. How will they? We had 16 weekends to play club league football last year, we’ll have 26 next year. What are they going to be doing on those weekends where there are more inter-county games? We’re going to have more inter-county games on a tighter timeframe.”

Several strong hurling counties didn’t vote in favour of the new provincial round-robin championship restructure, which comes into effect next year, though Farrell queried the veracity of that.

“Some members from those counties certainly spoke in that way, but I wouldn’t fully agree that the counties supported it.

“I don’t accept there are hurling counties and football counties… there are GAA counties. People ascribe those labels… people on Central Council are there for the betterment of the GAA in their own counties and in the overall association. In the past, people would be swayed by the argument of certain individuals or certain counties, but the better argument has won out on this occasion. There is no issue – nearly all counties are comfortable with what’s happening next year.”

Farrell, like GAA director general Páraic Duffy, supports the idea of introducing an U20 All-Ireland hurling championship to fall in line with the U20 football competition.

However, he doesn’t believe that, as with football from 2018, U20 hurlers should be barred from the All-Ireland senior hurling championship.

“Hurling is always a little bit different and I would bow to the expertise of our hurling development committee on that. They are not fully convinced that it should be the exact same in football and I would await their expert view on that.”

Regarding the future of the International Rules, Farrell said he had taken soundings from GAA clubs in Australia, who have told him it promotes awareness of Gaelic games in the country.

Adding to Duffy’s comments on a possible test in Philadelphia, he remarked: “We looked two years ago at New York and Boston and couldn’t find it (a ground), but there is now a good possibility that we may get one on the east coast. It’s not definite, but there’s a good possibility. We’d be happy with that. Not for the two games of the series, but for one of them.”

Farrell on...

The CPA sniping at the GAA

“I’m a club member and I’ve been involved at county, provincial and national level. When I’m finished as president I’ve no intention of going back to being a provincial officer or a county officer but I’ll absolutely be back with my club. In a heartbeat. We all know the issues with clubs. People sniping at the GAA? That started in 1884 and is something I suspect will be still going on in a thousand years.

“But snipers usually run out of time and ammunition.”

GPA salaries

“I don’t know what their salaries are but I absolutely do know, because this was a key part of our agreement, that any expenditure by the GPA in terms of salaries, only 25% of our (GAA) money can be spent on that. That’s an absolute given. We all have an interest as citizens how government and how private agencies spend their money, but we can’t have control of it. In the GAA we should always have control of our money, and I’d be totally comfortable how we spend our monies in the GAA.”

Punishing cynical play late in Gaelic football matches

“The standing committee on the playing rules is a very key committee. I don’t think they should just sit there and say, ‘All is well’. They should be challenging themselves, looking at a modern, fast-paced physical game as ours is and seeing how it can be improved.

“That’s my view and I think the committee we’ve had has been very good and made small but significant changes.”

Support for a return of the Tommy Murphy Cup

“It’s one part of the jigsaw I admit I wouldn’t be fully comfortable with. I believe if you’re in Division Four in football, you have been for a number of years and you have a record of losing your first round championship match, you should go into a separate competition. I think you should play for Sam Maguire in your first game but if you’re beaten in that, you should enter a meaningful competition.

“We did argue that and those counties felt they didn’t want that. It was discussed at Central Council and counties not involved felt maybe not. I can’t crystal ball gaze but in the future I think there’ll be a return to a two-tier championship.”

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