GAA Congress set to revisit the opening of county grounds to foreign games

Move comes in the wake of controversy over Liam Miller tribute game in Cork

The Liam Miller Tribute Match between Celtic Ireland Legends and Manchester United Legends took place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork in September. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The Liam Miller Tribute Match between Celtic Ireland Legends and Manchester United Legends took place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork in September. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

The GAA’s Central Council is expected to bring a motion to next month’s GAA Congress seeking to further relax the rule prohibiting the use of its grounds for foreign games.

It follows the controversy last July when permission to stage the Liam Miller tribute match at Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork in September was originally refused, only for the GAA’s management committee to recommend the overturning of that decision, putting its preference in a proposal via central council.

The issue resurfaced after the Cork County Board refused to let the 45,000-seater Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium be used for the Liam Miller match, because of the GAA’s rule 5.1, despite some €30 million of taxpayer’s money going to stadium redevelopment, the final cost of which is still being disputed.

Following a series of meetings, the match was then authorised by central council on its interpretation that the basis of the application “did not conflict with the association’s rules governing the use of its grounds”.

The tribute match for the late Republic of Ireland and Manchester United star, who died of cancer aged 36, raised some €1.5 million for the footballer’s young family and a range of Irish charities.

In 2005, Congress first voted to open Croke Park for Ireland’s rugby and soccer internationals, while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped.

Since then the relevant Rule 5.1, under which Association property may be not be used for field games, “other than those sanctioned by central council”, and which “did not conflict with the association’s rules governing the use of its grounds” has essentially remained intact, with the exception of Croke Park.

The central council motion to 2019 Congress, set for Wexford on February 22nd/23rd, will see to broaden that rule further to include county grounds, and not just Croke Park.

Following the decision to open to Páirc Uí Chaoimh, both GAA president John Horan and director general Tom Ryan indicated the rule may be revisited to decide whether or not it was still fit for purpose or not.

Attempts to broaden the rule further were unsuccessful in 2015 and ’16 (well beaten, 23-77, in the latter year, and the first vote falling by 38-62), after an intervention from then GAA director general Páraic Duffy, who pointed out that this would have greater implications for the GAA than the current availability of Croke Park (and the then co-operation with the IRFU in facilitating the bid for the 2023 RWC).

Initial estimate

In the meantime the exact cost of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh redevelopment remains a matter of some dispute, GAA president John Horan suggesting that the final cost is unlikely to run to €110m, a figure initially put forward by GAA’s national stadium and commercial director Peter McKenna in December. Cork GAA chair Tracey Kennedy has also insisted that the initial estimate of €86m remained in place. 

Horan chaired a meeting of the Páirc Uí Chaoimh board of directors in early December, in the aftermath of McKenna’s suggestion of a €24m overrun, adding that Michael O’Flynn and Tom Gray, both board directors, are in the process of examining and clarifying all costs relating to the stadium’s redevelopment.

“I think if everything was to go wrong for us, it would head up in that direction [owards €110m] ,” said Horan.

“But we would be very unlucky for it to reach that figure. There are issues to be resolved and when we resolve them, we will be able to firm it up. But there is no point in getting involved in speculation. There has been two sets of figures put out there and the two lads are looking at it to see can they bring clarity for the board.

“But I am not going to speculate on the two figures. I went in as chairman of the board of Páirc Uí Chaoimh in December. I am getting my head around all that’s going on. We’ve asked two individuals, Tom Gray and Michael O’Flynn, to look at it.

“There are a few areas in the Páirc Uí Chaoimh thing that are variable at the moment. We have to wait until those variables are firmed out but it would be a bit quick for me to make further comment, other than that, the lads are looking at the actual information that both sides have and hopefully, they will come out with a figure.”

The subject is likely to be raised in the annual report of director general Tom Ryan due for publication today.

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