The GAA will not be budging on their decision to fix Saturday's round three All-Ireland football qualifier between Kildare and Mayo for Croke Park - despite the clear threat from Kildare that they will not be showing up.
Kildare were entitled to home advantage, having been drawn first from the bowl earlier on Monday morning, but a meeting of the GAA’s Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) later decided that the capacity at St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge was not suitable for “health and safety” reasons.
Kildare officials had already aired their discontent and have now indicated they are not willing to play the game anywhere other than at home in Newbridge.
“We are making it clear that we will not play this game in Croke Park,” said a Kildare statement. “St Conleth’s Park is perfectly capable of hosting the tie on an all-ticket basis, Newbridge is perfectly capable of dealing with the number of supporters that will attend.”
However the GAA are no longer open to discussion on the matter, and the game will be played in Croke Park as double-header with the meeting of Cavan and Tyrone.
“The game has been fixed for 7pm in Croke Park, and that is not going to change under any circumstances”, Feargal McGill, the GAA’s director of games administration, told The Irish Times.
“We fully appreciate where Kildare are coming from. We don’t take home venue off of a team lightly. However, health and safety has to come first. It’s that simple. The last thing we wanted to do was take this out of Newbridge, but we simply had no choice. There is no room for manoeuvre, not when it comes to health and safety. If Kildare don’t show up in Croke Park on Saturday at 7.0pm the game will be awarded to Mayo.”
Cavan were also entitled to home venue, as the first drawn team, but with development work currently being carried out on Kingspan Breffni Park, they first nominated the alternative venue at Brewster Park in Enniskillen to play Tyrone. So too were Kildare entitled to nominate an alternative venue, but refused to do so, and with that the CCCC decided on Croke Park; Cavan then agreed to play their game against Tyrone as a double-header at Croke Park.
According to Croke Park, and based on the most recent Slattery Report on venue capacities, St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge has a capacity of 9,020; if the game is deemed all-ticket, that capacity is further reduced by 10 per cent. The CCCC then gave Kildare the opportunity to nominate an alternative venue, such as Navan or Portlaoise, but that wasn’t forthcoming.
“There were discussions all morning on the matter, and it won’t be changing at this stage,” added McGill. “Given the capacity, this is all about health and safety, simple as that. The CCCC have a responsibility for fixing venues, and those venues are fixed subject any health and safety concerns or requirements. Had Kildare drawing anyone other than Mayo at home it is likely that Newbridge would have been acceptable as a venue.”
Mayo beat Tipperary in the round two qualifier in Thurles on Saturday evening before an attendance of 11,257, the vast majority of which were from Mayo; given the higher stakes this Saturday it’s anticipated some 12,000 Mayo supporters will travel, with an anticipated 6,000 from Kildare.
“The anticipated attendance on Saturday, for us, would be 18,000-20,000. Given that likely attendance, and given the lack of capacity, we had a serious fear for people actually turning up in Newbridge without tickets, and that would have led to major safety concerns.”
“Under those circumstances, we felt there was no choice but to ask Kildare to nominate an alternative venue. They refused to do so. There will be those who will say the GAA saw the chance of a double-header in Croke Park, but that is not the case. If Kildare had nominated or Navan or Portlaoise it would have been fixed for any of those venues. However they refused to nominate a venue.”
The Kildare statement added: “As soon as the draw was made, we were in contact with Newbridge Garda Síochána immediately and they were happy with the fixture going ahead, their only request being that it throw in at 7pm, given the influx of people to the area due to the Irish Derby taking place at Curragh Racecourse at 5.15pm.
“Having received the backing of the Gardai, we sent an email to the CCCC advising them that we would have no difficulty in hosting the fixture as an all-ticket affair and were already putting plans in place to do so.
“We informed the CCCC of the advice surrounding the 7pm throw-in, and advised them that the Management Committee of Kildare GAA, on behalf of our loyal supporters, respectfully expected that the CCCC would fix the game for Saturday, June 30th, at St Conleth’s Park for 7pm and we had no issue with adhering to the criteria for St Conleths Park as previously agreed with the National Facilities/Health & Safety committee.
“We were asked to provide an alternative venue, an invitation we declined because Kildare are entitled to the home venue as per the draw, and were in the position to do so within all criteria of health and safety, and to the satisfaction of An Garda Síochána.”
Asked if the CCCC would consider an alternative venue at this stage, should Kildare come back to them, McGill said: “That ship has sailed. If Kildare are not in Croke Park on Saturday the game will be handed to Mayo. Cavan were fine about it, and said they’d be very happy to go with Croke Park as a double-header, once that was put to them.”
It’s far from the first time a ‘home’ team has lost that advantage in the qualifier draw, for either capacity or unavailability.
The double-header from Croke Park will also be televised live on Sky Sports.
All-Ireland SFC qualifiers round 3 - this Saturday
Leitrim v Monaghan, Pairc Sean MacDiarmada, 2.30pm
Armagh v Clare, Athletic Grounds, 3pm
Cavan v Tyrone, Croke Park, 5pm (Live on Sky Sports)
Kildare v Mayo, Croke Park, 7pm (Live on Sky Sports)