Donegal oppose Dublin playing two Super 8 games at Croke Park
GAA’s CCCC advocates continuation of the arrangements first introduced this year
Niall Scully fires past Donegal’s Shaun Patton to score a goal for Dublin during the All-Ireland Super 8s clash at Croke Park last July. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Donegal will oppose the prospect of Dublin again playing two of their three quarter-final round-robin fixtures in Croke Park.
A document circulated to counties by the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee advocates the continuation of what is in the rules designated as a ‘Croke Park round’.
This year’s first round of matches in both quarter-final groups were played at headquarters and whereas for seven of the counties it was effectively a neutral venue, the All-Ireland champions, who are in pursuit of a fifth successive title in 2019, also play their home fixture at the same venue.
As Ulster champions, Donegal faced Dublin in July but only after protesting about the venue.
County chair Mick McGrath has confirmed that the county continues to feel strongly on the matter and he believes other counties share their view.
“We do feel very strongly about this and were the ones jumping up and down about it last season. We’re not pointing the finger at Dublin but we don’t think any county should have two games in Croke Park in the Super 8s.
“For Dublin to declare Croke Park a home venue in the Super 8s and also have it as designated neutral venue isn’t a level playing field. We’re certainly not letting that issue go and I think there is concern about this out there in other counties.”
Given that Dublin are hot favourites to win the All-Ireland next year, they are virtual certainties to reach the last eight and if the CCCC argument – that Croke Park has since the advent of the quarter-finals been considered a neutral venue and that players like playing there – is persuasive the champions would again have two of their three fixtures in the stadium.
The CCCC also proposes that provincial champions should have their first fixture at home next year – a concession to provincial champions that McGrath believes isn’t a major issue.
Central Council meets on Saturday week to consider proposed playing rule changes in football as well as the review of this year’s experimental championship format.
“We should be trying to achieve a better level of equality in how we approach this,” said McGrath. “I’m a supporter of the whole Super 8 structure but there’s room for tweaking it and I think this is one of the things that needs to be changed.”
Dublin’s second championship match in Croke Park last summer was against Roscommon in what turned out to be a dead rubber as the champions had already won the group and their opponents were out of contention.
Then Roscommon manager Kevin McStay, since retired, is of a similar mind to McGrath.
“It’s hard to stack up in terms of fairness that a team nominates one venue as home and can be assigned the same venue, this time designated as neutral.
“I accept that were Dublin to play in their actual home ground, Parnell Park couldn’t facilitate anything like their number of supporters but by finally agreeing to Newbridge as the venue for Kildare-Mayo, the GAA were accepting that not all supporters could attend the match. Also, look at the extent of the experience of the ground where all the important championship matches are played – experience that one team is getting.”
Donegal are expected to oppose the CCCC recommendation at Central Council but the provision can only be changed by a motion to annual congress, which McGrath says will be under consideration.
A further consideration is that the Croke Park round might be better redesignated as a ‘neutral round,’ as the attendances for the first round in July were poor, 53,501 (for Dublin-Donegal and Tyrone-Roscommon) and 30,740 (for Galway-Kerry and Monaghan-Kildare), respectively although on the Sunday the weather was very bad and the World Cup final clashed with the double bill.
There is a view that the matches could be played at provincial venues halfway or thereabouts between the counties.
“You could have used Cavan as a halfway house for our game with Dublin,” says McGrath, “and think of the buzz and the business it would bring to Cavan – and the day out for the supporters. It would also be a level playing field because that to me would be a neutral ground.”
McStay thinks that the allure of Croke Park isn’t as great a factor for supporters and players as might have been the case previously.
“I don’t see why neutral games couldn’t be played at the bigger provincial venues. It’s an expensive day out for families having to go to Dublin and players get a good deal of exposure to Croke Park as it is.
“Roscommon must have played there six or seven times in the three years I was involved. I’d hardly have played that over a full playing career of 10 years. The novelty has worn off and I don’t think it’s any longer the case that it’s everyone’s dream to play there.
“I think most counties would go for the idea of playing in a more geographically convenient venue and it would have commercial benefits for provincial towns, which I think is a rationale in itself.”