The GAA has confirmed the continuation of the Spring Series next year, which will see Croke Park hosting five weekends of Allianz League action that will include plum ties primarily involving Dublin’s footballers.
With Kildare having come to an agreement to move two of their home games to Croke Park, the programme gets underway with a mouthwatering Division 1 double-header on Saturday, February 2.
The Lilywhites play All-Ireland champions Donegal in the opening encounter before Jim Gavin gets his stint as Dubs manager off to a competitive start against Cork.
Dublin take on Mayo in a repeat of this year’s All-Ireland semi-final on Saturday, March 2 before Kildare give up home advantage for the second time to face the Blues eight days later.
The capital’s hurlers only have one booking in the series, having been relegated to Division 2 but their clash with John Allen’s Limerick on Saturday, March 16 will be curtain-raiser to the Dublin-Tyrone football meeting.
Down footballers will make the trip south to complete the programme on March 23 and the GAA is likely to include at least one of the dates in its programme of events to mark the 100th anniversary of the association taking over the deeds of Croke Park.
“I think it would have been a hugely retrograde step if we returned to a situation where the crowds watching, not just Dublin but the other counties as well, had fallen back to what they would have been prior to the commencement of the Spring Series,” said the GAA’s communications manager, Alan Milton last evening.
“It’s positive that Kildare were happy to bring their games to Croke Park and more people will be able to see their games, but also for Dublin, as Parnell Park is a tight squeeze as well. It’s to be welcomed and people who get their GAA season tickets over the next few weeks will have extra value for that now.”
Kildare secretary, Kathleen O’Neill revealed the board would not have agreed to play in Croke Park, and in the process, save the Spring Series, but for receiving financial assistance that will enable them to make much-needed improvements to St Conleth’s Park.
“A huge amount of thought went into it and the only reason we agreed to moving the games is that we were offered compensation which is going to be ring-fenced to upgrade facilities at St Conleth’s Park,” said O’Neill yesterday. At present, St Conleth’s Park has an official capacity of 6,200 but according to O’Neill, the construction of barriers and upgrading of toilets will increase that figure to between 8,500 and 9,000.
“There wouldn’t be too many games that we would need more than that,” O’Neill declared.
The Rathcoffey club woman wouldn’t reveal the exact compensation but figures ranging from €60,000 to €150,000 in total for the two games have been mentioned — significantly more than the €12,000 received for moving this year’s Division 2 opener against Tyrone to headquarters.
She is happy that Kildare have done well, however.
“We’re very satisfied with the deal we have got. It will allow us to do an awful lot of additional improvements to St Conleth’s Park that we would not have envisaged being able to do in 2013.”
Work is expected to be completed by the summer.
Meanwhile, Club Kildare has decided to grant members tickets to the Donegal and Dublin games, which they would have been entitled to had they taken place in Newbridge.
Subscription to the supporters’ club includes free entry to home league games but members had to pay into Croke Park for the Tyrone tie last February. There were fears that the same would apply this time around before yesterday’s commitment that members would be issued with tickets to the games.
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