Decision to keep Dublin in Croke Park didn’t even spark debate

Acting Leinster CEO says proposed fixture list was unanimously accepted

The Leinster Council was unanimous at its Wednesday night meeting that Dublin's senior football fixtures should continue to be staged at Croke Park. The decision, which has proved contentious with supporters in other counties, was taken without objection.

Michael Reynolds, acting CEO of the Leinster Council, said the decision to keep the provincial champions in the top stadium was part of the overall fixtures list that sees a double bill, featuring Dublin taking on Longford or Offaly and the county's hurlers facing Galway in what will be new manager Ger Cunningham's first championship match in charge, set for 31st May, wasn't contentious.

‘No counter proposal’

“It wasn’t even mentioned last night. Even 12 months ago I don’t think it even went to a formal vote although there were speakers against it.

“This week we presented the draft fixtures for all the championships and there wasn’t a murmur, good, bad or indifferent – and that would have been the forum for someone to raise objections but of the 35 delegates present there was no counter proposal.”

Faced with the choice between the diminished revenue returns from playing Dublin matches at different venues with smaller capacities – the volume of seated accommodation makes Croke Park more profitable even on comparable attendance figures – provincial delegates have consistently voted to maintain income levels.

Asked did he feel that administrators from the counties were acting against the wishes of their teams and public, Reynolds disagreed saying that in his view players were happy to perform in Croke Park.

He also replied to the issue of local businesses in provincial towns being deprived of big match-day crowds.

“Some of the venues we’re talking about get a reasonable allocation of qualifiers matches. The sort of grounds where you might play Dublin such as Portlaoise or Tullamore are examples. Maybe if there were no qualifiers that argument would be stronger.

"Then last year Tullamore had two cracking hurling games. If Wexford win their quarter-final, Kilkenny-Wexford is in Nowlan Park. I think we do spread matches around."

Yet Dublin footballers haven’t travelled in the Leinster championship for what will be nine years next summer – since the trip to Longford’s Pearse Park. According to Reynolds such a departure would be more complicated these days.

“Health and safety plays a ferocious role in all of this,” he said. “Longford and Dublin in 2006 could not happen in 2014 without greatly reducing the attendance. We could do it if we decided 8,000 was acceptable compared to 16,000 eight years ago. Safety considerations are having a big impact in all walks of life.”

The double bill on the last weekend in May was also a good fit for the hurling championship, allowing the two qualifiers from the preliminary round-robin to take a week’s break before playing their quarter-finals against Offaly and Wexford.

“A factor we took into account was the criticism we took last year over the preliminary round-robin hurling teams having to play week after week. Some of it was unfair because with five teams in the round-robin it takes five weeks whereas this year with four teams, it will take just three.

Significant business

“We were able to build a break into the schedule at the end of the round-robin by playing the quarter-final that doesn’t involve any of the qualifiers from the round-robin.”

The other significant business of the night was the decision not to allow Galway's underage hurling teams join their senior counterparts in the Leinster championship, an outcome described by Galway Hurling Board chair Joe Byrne as "selfish".

“The general view from the counties,” said Reynolds, “was that they were happy enough with Leinster hurling as it is. Kerry had an application to come into minor hurling and then you’d have to ask about Antrim’s position and it would very quickly become quite complicated.

"It probably will happen at some stage but Galway are in the senior Leinster championship because it's in the Official Guide.

“I’m not saying that they’re being forced on the province because individual county chairmen would have welcomed the move but it was a national initiative to benefit the hurling championship.”

Seán Moran

Seán Moran

Seán Moran is GAA Correspondent of The Irish Times

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