Croke Park is ‘only option’ for Dublin footballers

Leinster chairman John Horan has defended the province’s decision to keep the Dublin footballers in Croke Park.

At yesterday’s championship launch in Phoenix Park’s Farmleigh House, the Dublin native revealed Leinster are contractually obliged to stage four matches at GAA HQ as part of an agreement on use of the stadium.

This year, of their 22 senior games the Leinster Council will stage six in Croke Park — the Dublin footballers and hurlers’ Leinster quarter-final double-header on May 31, the football semi-finals on June 28 and the hurling and football deciders on July 5 and 12 respectively.

Not since 2006 have Dublin’s footballers played a provincial game anywhere other than the Jones Road venue.

In a speech to the assembled media and team personnel (Galway and Antrim had no representatives), Horan said: “This year again we have this clamour to take games out of Croke Park. In my mind, it makes no sense to move games to a venue which will not be able to accommodate all of those who wish to attend. There will also be implications for concessions in such situations.

“Staging games in Croke Park offers us better opportunities in looking after both our older and younger, and our families, in terms of the concession packages we offer.

“I see no point in potentially locking people out of games while a stadium lies unused elsewhere.”

However, Offaly manager Pat Flanagan said it is unfair that Dublin have home advantage every season. Should they beat Longford on Saturday week, Offaly will face Dublin in Croke Park at the end of the month.

“You want to just go on the whole ethos of the GAA, it’s supposed to be a fair competition. And to be totally honest with you, I’m probably putting my neck on the line here, but when you play Dublin in Croke Park in every game, it’s not a fair competition any more.

“Laois and Offaly would either be in Portlaoise or Tullamore; Westmeath and Offaly, it would be in Mullingar or Tullamore; Offaly and Longford, it’s going to be in Pearse Park or Tullamore.

“So why is that not applied to every county in Leinster?”

Jim Gavin maintains Dublin would have no issue playing outside Croke Park. “We’re privileged to represent the county and we relish playing away from home in the National League and O’Byrne Cup and relish playing anywhere we’re asked to play during Leinster. From the players’ perspective, it’s about representing the county no matter where the ground is.

“I think as the Leinster chairman said, it’s about letting people see the games live. Provincial stadiums might not have the capacity to hold the games.”

Leinster chief Horan also encouraged referees not to be afraid to issue black cards in the championship having noticed a reticence during the spring.

“If I could make one observation on Gaelic football it would be the use of the black card.

“I’ve had numerous discussions with people over the course of the National League and they were all agreed that there seemed to be a reluctance over the use of the black card. The card was introduced with a specific aim: to rid the game of cynical fouls and behaviour. And I would encourage referees to produce the black card in these instances and maybe keep Joe Brolly from boring us on television!”

Echoing Jim McGuinness’ assertion that the game is in rude health, Horan says analysis of it has been sharper compared to that of rival sports. “The state of Gaelic football is under scrutiny with many decrying the entertainment value, sometimes on the basis of a single match, all the while ignoring the exciting and entertaining games that we see.

“I’ve lost many an hour watching Premiership, Pro 12, even rugby internationals and I have to say a lot of those games have been poor as well. But we don’t seem to get the same clamour about changing the way they actually play their games. I believe that our games are constantly evolving and no coach or team has managed to find a definitive winning strategy over the last 130 years.

“As soon as they think they have, some team comes along and knocks them off their perch. People will say things have changed forever but the GAA world keeps turning.”

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