GAA fans will benefit this weekend from the completion of the latest stageof Croke Park's redevelopment but those living in its shadow face an unprecedented invasion. Colm Ward reports
Dublin is set to go football mad this weekend when an unprecedented number of fans from eight counties descend on the city for the GAA Senior Football quarter finals.
Crowds of over 150,000 are expected to converge on Croke Park for the four games over Sunday and Monday, in what will be the first major showcase for the newly revamped stadium where capacity has reached almost 80,000.
But some residents who live in the vicinity of Croke Park are deeply unhappy that the four matches are all being played at GAA headquarters.
Mr Pat Gates, secretary of the Croke Park Residents' Alliance, told The Irish Times that the residents are angry at the decision to play the four matches over two days.
"We are not happy with any sort of back-to-back matches," he said. In the past, residents have experienced problems with cars blocking entrances and with litter and noise as fans enter and leave the stadium.
One resident on the Clonliffe Road was disappointed that the GAA decided to play the four matches in Croke Park over the one weekend, notwithstanding the benefit of not having to travel far to see the games. "You have to remember that we are all Dublin fans here, so we'll all be watching the game either in Croke Park or at home on the television," he said.
A man who lives nearby on Clonliffe Avenue said his driveway had been blocked in the past when big matches were being played, while on one occasion, he saw someone urinating against his neighbour's front-wall. He said he could tolerate one weekend of matches but he hoped that there would be no more games played over consecutive days this year.
Mr Gates believes that some of the matches could be played elsewhere. There is no reason why the Sligo versus Armagh game could not be played in a more northerly venue, he said.
According to GAA spokesman, Mr Danny Lynch, the matches were scheduled following consultations with residents groups.
"I spoke personally to the chairman of the Croke Park Residents' Association and he indicated that he wouldn't have a problem provided the games were not played on a Saturday," he said.
The large crowds that the games are expected to draw means that Croke Park is the only suitable venue to host them, he said, adding that the influx of fans represented a substantial economic boost to the city which would be "deserted" otherwise.
Mr Gates believes the GAA has not looked seriously at other options and made the decision to play the games at Croke Park for purely financial reasons. However, he welcomed the decision not to schedule matches for Saturday.
The residents would have been "out on the streets" in protest if that had happened, he said. The issue of playing back-to-back matches over two consecutive days is one of the few sticking points in what Mr Gates describes as a "good relationship" between the residents and the GAA.
Long-running consultations between them have led to agreement being reached on a number of issues such as post-match cleaning, crowd control and policing.
The first match on Sunday is Sligo versus Armagh at 2.30 p.m., after which champions Galway take on Kerry. Throw-in in that game is 4.15 p.m..
On Monday, Cork take on Mayo at 2.30 p.m., followed by Dublin versus Donegal at 4.15 p.m. Croke Park has undergone an extensive revamp which includes a new stand and an improved playing surface. The ground's capacity of almost 80,000 is likely to be reached this weekend, notably for Monday's games.
Iarnród Éireann has made special arrangements for fans travelling to the games this weekend. Special trains have been laid on from Sligo, Galway and Kerry on Sunday - regular bank holiday services will operate on Monday. The bad news for anyone who has not yet booked a place is that all the tickets are sold out.
Rail services in Dublin will be disrupted this weekend to allow work to take place on the East Wall Road Bridge near Connolly Station. The work is taking place all weekend and means that there will be no DART services between Connolly Station and Clontarf Road.
The Belfast Enterprise service will operate with departures up to 40 minutes earlier than normal from Dublin, and bus transfers between Connolly Station and Drogheda. Southside DART services between Connolly and Bray/Greystones will operate normally.
The total cost of the redevelopment will be close to €140 million.
The stadium is the equivalent of a building with a floor area of 6.5 hectares or 16 acres.
If all the seating was spread out in a line, it would stretch for 42 kilometres.
Total seating capacity is 79,500.
The new stand is 180 metres long, 35 metres high, seats 25,000 people and contains 46 hospitality suites.
The sale of corporate seats in the new stand recouped more than 50 per cent of the cost of building yet only takes up only 12 per cent of the total capacity. The corporate suites sold almost immediately.
An interesting feature of the stand is a gap left in the roof about a metre back from the front edge to prevent the roof lifting off in high winds.
The roof of the stadium was designed to fit in with the surrounding area. The slate blue transparency of the curtain walling, which encloses the areas containing the restaurants, bars and conference centres, mirrors the rooftops in the surrounding area.
The roofing is designed with differing levels of transparency. This is intended to filter sunlight depending on which direction the roof faces in order to prevent excessive shadow on the ground.
The design of the roofing will mean that the amount of rain falling onto the pitch is reduced by over one third.
Special arrangements were made for the disabled so that they can access every level except the upper level.
In an emergency, the entire stadium and surrounding streets can be evacuated in eight minutes.
Three quarters of the Canal End was built in airspace outside GAA property. This extends out over land currently owned by Iarnród Éireann.
Croke Park has become the first stadium in Europe designed for horizontal rather than vertical segregation. This means it is possible to move all around the stadium at each level rather than from the top to the bottom of the stands.
The playing surface is designed so that it can be drained by a vacuum if there is excessive rainfall or heated in freezing temperatures. The pitch itself has been increased in width by seven metres.
Synthetic grass is planted at intervals of one inch on the field, around which a special breed of natural grass is grown. This has the effect of maintaining a smooth surface.