Former GAA president Seán Kelly has called on the association’s hierarchy to prioritise the upgrading of county grounds to ensure the Newbridge saga never repeats itself.
The GAA yesterday confirmed St Conleth’s Park would stage Saturday’s round three qualifier between Kildare and Mayo (7pm), backtracking on their opposition to the Newbridge venue hosting the tie.
Having fixed the game for Croke Park, the Central Competitions Control Committee reversed their decision after “receiving assurances” that “serious concerns around the health and safety of patrons attending the fixture will be adequately addressed”.
This resolution was hammered out at a meeting in Kildare late on Tuesday night between top GAA officials, the Kildare County Board executive and gardaí. The Kildare camp was furious with CCCC chairman Ned Quinn who claimed that should the game go ahead in Newbridge, “animosity” could be shown to people who have tickets.
Capacity has been set at 8,200, with GAA top-brass denying the allegation that the initial decision to have the game at Croke Park was motivated by financial gain.
“Categorically not,” said Alan Milton, GAA director of communications.
The only driver here was [the] health and safety of our patrons that attend games. It was the only motivation behind the fixing of the game for Croke Park.
“We’re confident the ground will have a plan that will allow for people to enter and leave the ground safely.”
Both the Mayo and Kildare county boards will each receive 1,500 tickets for distribution via clubs. The remainder will be given to season ticket holders, sponsors, and players. Supporters who are unable to get their hands on a ticket have been urged not to travel to St Conleth’s Park on Saturday.
The game involving Cavan and Tyrone, originally scheduled as the curtain-raiser in Croke Park, has been moved to Brewster Park (5pm) in Enniskillen. Both games will be televised live by Sky. The Kildare-Mayo fixture is believed to be worth €450,000 to the town of Newbridge, according to the Kildare Chamber of Commerce.
Former GAA president Kelly says Kildare were right to make the stand they did, while also commending Croke Park for “swallowing their pride”.
“[The CCCC] had the good sense to say that the best thing to do here, in the best interests of the GAA overall, is to concede and play the game in Newbridge.
Kildare stood up, they took a risk. In view of what has happened, they were right to do so. It wasn’t explained to them satisfactorily why the game was initially taken out of Newbridge. You have to clarify things in advance and not change them subsequently. It was no harm to make a point.
Kelly added: “The GAA also proved the big man can show some humility and be able to say, yes, we got this wrong and we are going to reverse the decision. That is a good thing too in terms of listening to grassroots and seeing the bigger picture where the playing of the game is the most important aspect from the association’s point of view.”
Should the Lilywhites reach the Super 8s, Kelly believes Kildare’s home game should be played at St Conleth’s Park.
He is hopeful the furore of recent days will hammer home the urgent need to upgrade the county grounds with the smallest capacities. The GAA’s annual revenue for 2017 was €65.6 million and while over €9m went towards capital investment and grants, there remains a number of venues — Walsh Park, St Conleth’s Park, Aughrim’s Joule Park — whose capability to host championship games have been called into question this year. That cannot continue, Kelly stressed.
“The GAA, having already swallowed a bit of pride, which is no harm, must sit down and ensure everyone is listened to from now on, that their rules are crystal clear and there will be some kind of plan in place that where there are deficiencies in grounds, they’ll be addressed as soon as possible.
I expect big changes in the championship as we go forward, which will probably mean a second tier in the football championship. That will mean far more opportunities for home games. While Waterford not getting a home game in the hurling championship is tolerable for one year, that could not be entertained Ad infinitum.
“The grounds that are not deemed good enough at this point in time to take a home venue, the GAA need to say they are going to correct that and aid them financially to ensure that in two or three years time, they are up to standard. If that isn’t done, you are condemning the counties with the least resources to never having a big home game in the championship. That benefits nobody.
“It is time we showed real commitment to the counties that haven’t had the opportunity to develop because of a lack of resources, lack of finance. The weaker counties have to be discriminated favourably towards.
“It is time to focus on the weaker counties and give them a leg up, which is badly needed.”