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Ambitious GAA integration plan faces several challenges

Damien Duff lets rip on Casement Park plan, while Gordon D’Arcy examines a Welsh renaissance

Former president Mary McAleese, the current chairperson of the Steering Group on Integration of the Camogie Association, the GAA, and the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, described Tuesday as “a very historic day for Gaelic games”, as plans were unveiled for the amalgamation of men’s and women’s football and hurling and camogie under the one umbrella by 2027. “Clear on ambition but sketchy on detail,” writes Gordon Manning after he attended the announcement at Croke Park, adding that “squaring the circle of the three Fs – facilities, finance, fixtures – remains an unsolved puzzle”. But, he says, there is “a sense of unstoppable momentum behind the integration process now … The ambition is clear. The challenge now is to ensure the mechanics of getting it all done are too.”

Seán Moran addresses that challenge too in his piece on Tuesday’s announcement, noting that while there is “a powerful consensus for change” within the GAA, there is also “an ambient cynicism about the prospects of success for integration – not necessarily hostility towards the idea, but world-weary pessimism”.

There’s been plenty of world-weary pessimism down the years too over the prospects of Casement Park ever being redeveloped, the saga having an interminable feel to it. But news on Tuesday that the Government is contributing €50 million to the project, and that clearance works have finally started at the site, should have provided some cheer.

How excited is Damien Duff by that news? Not hugely. “Fifty million ... how many [Euro 2028] games will it host? Four? Great. We’ll go to the toilet four times. I’d rather [it was] spent on academies,” Nathan Johns heard the Shelbourne manager say at one of his typically lively press conferences.


Last week, Duff described the FAI’s rather lengthy search for Stephen Kenny’s successor as “embarrassing”. He retracted that on Tuesday, instead calling it “crazy”. But Marc Canham, the association’s director of football, believes the hot seat will be occupied “in the next fortnight”. These are busy times for Canham, with Gavin Cummiskey taking a browse through his long awaited 107-page “player pathways plan” which “seeks to turn dreams into reality by 2036″.

In rugby, Gordon D’Arcy has a look at the shape of Welsh rugby ahead of Saturday’s Six Nations meeting in Dublin, reckoning that after some turbulent years, not least on the financial front, there is “a renewed optimism surrounding the prospects of the national team”.

And with Warren Gatland returning to the helm as Wales coach last year, Simon Easterby, Ireland’s longest serving coach, who was given his international debut by Gatland back in 2000, believes they’re in good hands. “Warren is very good at giving players confidence to go out and be the best version of themselves. Like a lot of the best coaches are,” he tells Gerry Thornley.

And Johnny Watterson talks to Jamison Gibson-Park ahead of the game, with the scrumhalf feeling “pretty blessed to be involved in two pretty ambitious environments with Ireland and Leinster”.

TV Watch: Premier Sports 1 continue their coverage of rugby’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup with the quarter-final meeting of Terenure College and St Michael’s College (3.0), and this evening we have two Champions League round of 16 meetings, Porto v Arsenal (Virgin Media Two & TNT Sports 1, 8.0) and Napoli v Barcelona (TNT Sports 2, 8.0).

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