Croke Park stadium manager Peter McKenna has claimed that Jim Gavin and other managers who’ve criticised the venue’s pitch have their facts wrong and are engaging in “deflection”.
McKenna confirmed that the Croke Park pitch was relaid on three different occasions in 2018, though he insisted it had no effect whatsoever on its playability.
Roscommon manager Kevin McStay claimed the surface was “not good enough” in July of 2017 after it was relaid following concerts.
After that summer’s Leinster final against Kildare, Gavin said a section of relaid pitch “wasn’t great for both teams” and he urged “the management of Croke Park to have a look at it” and to reconsider summer concerts there.
However, at yesterday’s release of the GAA’s annual accounts for 2018, which include the specific accounts for Croke Park Ltd, McKenna said: “I stand over it from a technical point of view; we test that pitch and take all of the metrics of it,” said McKenna. “Managers need to deflect from other conversations, so it’s easy to say, ‘oh, we didn’t like this’, or whatever. The pitch is put down to the highest standards and we would know exactly what the performance metrics of that pitch are in terms of stud-turn, hardness and so on. I have those [statistics] there for every week for the last five or six years. No, there’s no issue with the pitch.
“Managers deflect, they don’t want to talk about the issue that you [the media] want to talk about, so the pitch is an easy way to create a diversion, if you like. The figures are there and I’m more than happy to show them to anybody.”
Asked if he had contacted Gavin specifically, McKenna said: “I have tried several times, but he is a very busy man. He is a pilot, as well as everything else.”
Croke Park hosted Taylor Swift, Michael Buble, and The Rolling Stones concerts last year and some or all of the pitch was replaced each time. Gavin questioned the wisdom of holding the Swift shows a week before the Leinster final between Dublin and Laois.
“They are an outstanding grounds team in Croke Park and no doubt they did their very best, but probably the administration doesn’t help them by putting them in that situation in trying to turn that pitch around in six days,” said Dublin boss Gavin at the time.
Former Dublin captain Colin Moran called for an investigation in late 2016 to determine why Croke Park is so slippery when wet.
“It’s a beautiful arena, but the surface is so hard that when it rains it’s treacherous,” said Moran.
However, McKenna said there are no issues whatsoever with the pitch and he reiterated that he attempts to contact managers whenever they are critical of the surface.
“I do, indeed, and I think criticism is really positive,” he said. “I welcome anyone making comments, because it helps us raise our game, but if you do make criticism, it’s nice to find out exactly what your issues were and let us respond. I’m always very, very conscious that the fellas who work on the pitch are just regular lads and they have millions of people scrutinising their work and they’re [on the] back page invariably through the year. That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on fellas. They are part of my team and I will defend their ability to do their work, because I think they’re brilliant. If there’s criticism I’ll go and chat to the guy that’s making it and say, ‘let’s talk it through, tell us exactly what the issues are’. If we need to tweak or to change, then so be it, but it’s something, and you [the media] probably find this the same, it’s not always easy to catch managers. They’re busy lads.”
Croke Park Ltd returned a profit before tax of €11m in 2018, with a distribution of €8m back to central GAA funds. Its profitability is one of the major success stories, with €13.1m — almost half of the stadium’s revenue in 2018 — coming from corporate activities. The ground had 1.4m visitors in 2018, with 856,000 of those coming on match days, 163,000 visiting the museum and skyline tour, 290,000 attending concerts and special events and 130,000 using the ground for meetings.
The new Croke Park farm in Naul is fully operational and, aside from providing turf for pitch resurfacing, it also produces cheese and oil.
“We’ve zero to landfill at Croke Park. We’ve maintained that for the last three years. It’s a huge achievement and we just want to show what’s possible elsewhere, as well, so we’ve got polytunnels [on the farm] using compost from grass clippings and then we bring the harvest back to be used in the kitchens here,” said McKenna. “We’ve installed bee hives there as well, but the main thing is we’re growing our own pitches out there and that’s fantastic.”