Croker’s ‘sweetheart’ semi-final

CROKE PARK officials have described the Heineken Cup semi-final of Munster and Leinster as the ultimate “sweetheart pairing” and revealed corporate ticket prices for the game have been reduced due to the global economic downturn.

The May 2 clash, which is expected to generate €1.3m in rental income for GAA coffers, is a welcome boost to the Association against the backdrop of the financial slowdown.

“It is a sweetheart pairing to have Munster and Leinster playing at Croke Park,” admitted Stadium Director, Peter McKenna. “It is a real bonus to us in these times; it is a fantastic draw.”

The game is on course for a 82,300 sellout and a place in the record books for the largest attendance for a club rugby fixture. 5,000 tickets issued by tournament organisers ERC were snapped up within 30 minutes last night while the provinces have each received a 30,000 allocation for the trip to Dublin. Tickets are priced at €25 for terrace tickets (concessions available at €12 for U-16s) and €45 for stand tickets.

However McKenna revealed that the corporate prices have been slashed for the game and for upcoming concerts.

“We felt it was very, very important to respond to these difficult times. We looked at the corporate market at the start of the year and have instigated major changes to our pricing structures. For the upcoming concerts of U2 and Take That, we have pulled well back on our charges. We will be doing likewise for the game between Munster and Leinster next month.”

He explained: “For example, existing box holders will pay €295 (inclusive of vat) which secures a match ticket along with a food and beverage service. The equivalent for the Six Nations was €850 (plus vat).

“Our objective is to make top class facilities available with no drop in standard for a more affordable price in these times. We spent a lot of time with ERC (tournament organisers) discussing these prices and they are very comfortable with the figures.”

Apart from the financial windfall, McKenna is delighted with an all-Irish pairing. “International fixtures bring a different type of dynamic, with travelling federations and fans, and Garda briefings with airports and ferry ports, etc. This is a lot more straightforward. Most of these fans will have been in Croke Park before and will know the lay of the land. So it is a sweetheart pairing in every sense.”

GAA finances will be boosted by over €1m from hosting the Munster-Leinster semi-final.

“This is an all-Ireland occasion,” GAA president, Nickey Brennan, said yesterday. “Clearly, there is no other stadium in Ireland capable of handling this particular fixture. It’s in keeping with the gesture that the GAA made to the rugby and soccer people from day one and I think from that point of view we are facilitating them in a generous manner.

“Secondly, the obvious benefit is that it will give additional funds to the GAA to invest back in infrastructure around the country in line with the other rugby and soccer matches that have been played in Croke Park.”

Brennan, who leaves office at the annual Congress in Cork at the weekend agreed the original request from the IRFU was for a game that “may not entirely” have been in keeping with what was envisaged in the (2005) motion to allow rugby and soccer be played in Croke Park. The decision to grant permission — taken at a Central Council meeting in Thurles on February 14 — was reached without the need for a vote after there was overwhelming support for it.

“Given the circumstances, this was a magnanimous gesture of goodwill,” he explained. “Any fair-minded person in the country would see this as the appropriate venue. Quite frankly, the notion that teams would have to go outside Ireland to play such a big match could not be contemplated.”

In relation to GAA finances nationally, Brennan said that while they had budgeted for a €6m shortfall this year, the gap “was closing all the time”. In addition to the rugby game, the stadium will host three U2 concerts and there is the possibility of a soccer World Cup play-off near the end of the year.

“I think it’s going to be a good solid year for the GAA,” he added.

To date, the rugby and soccer games played in Croke Park have benefited GAA coffers to the extent of €18.7m, of which €11.7m was raised last year. Three further rugby internationals are scheduled for next spring, following which the new Aviva Stadium in Lansdowne Road will be opened.

Longer term, the possibility of Croke Park being sought for high-profile international games is not being ruled out and a motion to Congress will seek to give the Central Council authority on a permanent basis to deal with any applications from either the IRFU or the FAI for the use of the stadium in the future.


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