Newbridge or nowhere, Croke Park or nowhere: Kildare appear to be on their way out of the All-Ireland SFC because of a row with the GAA concerning the choice of venue for their All-Ireland SFC Round 3 qualifier against Mayo next Saturday.
In a row which could have major ramifications for the GAA, Kildare were entitled to home advantage in St Conleth’s Park, having been drawn out first against a fellow Division 1 team yesterday morning.
The board began making plans to that effect, as is the rule, but were then informed by the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) that the venue’s capacity was not adequate for the expected crowd and they were asked to propose alternative venues.
When they did not, the CCCC took matters into their own hands and organised it as the second game of a double-bill in Croke Park, along with the Cavan-Tyrone qualifier, the throw-in times 7pm and 5pm, respectively.
Both games were confirmed as Sky Sports’ live games this Saturday. Cavan were also awarded a home draw, but Breffni Park is currently unavailable.
In an extensive statement released yesterday evening, the Kildare County Board’s management committee made it clear they will not be fulfilling the fixture, while manager Cian O’Neill said the squad will be turning up to play in St Conleth’s Park and nowhere else.
Contacted last night, the GAA stressed the “only reason” they switched the game from the 9,000-circa capacity Newbridge venue was because the CCCC couldn’t sign off on the health and safety element of the event plan. A spokesperson stressed the independence of the CCCC and that it was under “no duress” from the financial arm of the association.
GAA director of games administration Feargal McGill, who earlier supervised the third-round draw, told The Irish Times Mayo will be awarded a walkover should Kildare not turn up to Croke Park.
However, O’Neill was unequivocal in the interview he gave on RTÉ’s Six One News:
"We were drawn first out of the bowl. The rules clearly state that the first team drawn out has a home venue... and that’s exactly where we’re going to be on Saturday night. We’ll be in St Conleth’s Park, togged out, ready to go. That’s our home venue. We earned it by winning the last two matches on the road and that’s not going to be taken away from us.
Keen not to bring Mayo into the debacle, O’Neill said he was “bewildered” by the decision to take the game away from Kildare. He finished: “I don’t think Mayo mind where they play. The draw is the draw, the fixture is the fixture. Let’s be fair about this. Stick to the rules that you created, stick to the draw that was made in the presence of the president of the GAA, John Horan, this morning. Let’s get on the pitch on Saturday in St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge at 7 o’clock”.
O’Neill echoed some of what was carried in an extensive Kildare statement released just before his appearance on RTÉ TV: “As soon as the draw was made, we were in contact with Newbridge Garda Síochána immediately and they were happy with the fixture going ahead, their only request being that it throw in at 7pm, given the influx of people to the area due to the Irish Derby taking place at Curragh Racecourse at 5.15pm.
"Having received the backing of the Gardaí, we sent an email to the CCCC advising them that we would have no difficulty in hosting the fixture as an all-ticket affair and were already putting plans in place to do so.
“We informed the CCCC of the advice surrounding the 7pm throw-in, and advised them that the management committee of Kildare GAA, on behalf of our loyal supporters, respectfully expected that the CCCC would fix the game for Saturday, June 30th, at St Conleth’s Park for 7pm and we had no issue with adhering to the criteria for St Conleth’s Park, as previously agreed with the national facilities/health & safety committee
“We were asked to provide an alternative venue, an invitation we declined, because Kildare are entitled to the home venue, as per the draw, and were in the position to do so within all criteria of health and safety, and to the satisfaction of An Garda Síochána.”
The press release continued: “When notification arrived that the game was fixed for Croke Park, we informed the CCC that we would not be fulfilling that fixture, because it was a home draw for St Conleth’s Park. This decision does not make sense to us, as we have already hosted attractive Division 1 fixtures this year.
There is also the concern as to the implications were Kildare to qualify for the so-called Super 8s series. The major selling point of this format was that each team would have one major home fixture. Does this now mean that we in Kildare would be denied that right, were we to qualify?
“We are not attempting to do anything that contravenes health and safety regulations. We can cater for the fixture St Conleth’s Park and it will not cause undue congestion in Newbridge.
“As the management committee of Kildare GAA, we have a responsibility to our team management, players, supporters, sponsors, businesses and every stakeholder in Kildare GAA to insist that we be allowed fulfil the home fixture we are entitled to.
“And we are making it clear that we will not play this game in Croke Park. St Conleth’s Park is perfectly capable of hosting the tie on an all-ticket basis, Newbridge is perfectly capable of dealing with the number of supporters that will attend.”
The GPA weighed in behind Kildare last night: “It is unclear why the GAA is not sticking to its original decision that the first team drawn would have home advantage. The GAA decision to move this game from its original venue of St Conleth’s Park to Croke Park is unacceptable. Changing the rules with regard to match venues at the 11th hour without any regard to the players affected is not fair or reasonable. Players deserve better and the GAA should respect their own rules in this regard.
Six years ago, Kildare were awarded home advantage for their third-round qualifier against Limerick, but it was moved to Portlaoise to accommodate a larger crowd.