Kildare supporters could still end up being out-numbered by almost three-to-one by Mayo after the GAA backed down on their originally hard stance concerning health and safety around St Conleth's Park in Newbridge.
After receiving extra assurances from the Kildare county board and An Garda Síochána that upgraded traffic management plans and stewarding would be put in place, the GAA approved the Newbridge venue on an all-ticket basis and with a capacity of just 8,200: all season ticket holders will be accommodated, with Mayo having approximately 3,000, and Kildare approximately 1,000.
So ended the potentially ruinous stand-off between the GAA and Kildare on the decision to fix Saturday’s round three All-Ireland football qualifier against Mayo for Croke Park, despite Kildare being entitled to home advantage at St Conleth’s Park.
The game now goes ahead at the Newbridge venue at 7.0pm on Saturday evening, but with the all-ticket, 8,200 capacity: this means both the Kildare and Mayo county committees have received just 1,500 tickets each for club distribution, and “the remainder will be used to meet the needs of players, season ticket holders and sponsors”.
In reversing their original decision the GAA also warned that supporters without tickets should not to come to St Conleth’s Park on Saturday.
"The situation now is there will be a shortage of tickets," said the GAA's director of communications, Alan Milton, "and we would be urging anyone without a ticket not to come into Newbridge on Saturday evening, because there won't be any tickets on sale at the venue, and you won't be able to get into the ground without one. That's the message we're trying to get across now.
“Every Mayo and Kildare season ticket-holder will be satisfied, and has the right to purchase a ticket, Mayo having approximately 3,000, and Kildare approximately 1,000, and it’s normal service for them. The main issue for us now is to tell people who do not have a ticket not to come to the St Conleth’s Park on Saturday. It’s a very restrictive venue, there are only two entrance and access points.”
On Monday, the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) had decided that capacity at St Conleth's was not suitable for "health and safety" reasons, and fixed the Kildare-Mayo game as a double-bill in Croke Park along with the other round three qualifier between Cavan and Tyrone: that game will now take place at Brewster Park in Enniskillen on Saturday evening at 5.0pm, Cavan's choice of 'home' venue as Kingspan Breffni Park is being refurbished. Both games will go out live on Sky Sports only.
The upgraded traffic management plans and stewarding was presented by Kildare at a meeting with Croke Park Tuesday night, and agreed by the CCCC on Wednesday morning.
Having been first informed the game must be played in Croke Park, Kildare manager Cian O’Neill, with the full support his county board, had remained adamant “it’s Newbridge or nowhere”.
Based on the most recent Slattery Report on venue capacities, St Conleth’s Park has a capacity of 9,020, but if the game is deemed all-ticket that is further reduced by 10 per cent.
In a statement confirming the switch to Newbridge, the GAA said: "Following discussions with the Kildare County Committee and An Garda Síochána in recent days, upgraded match-day and traffic management plans involving extra stewarding and Gardaí will be put in place to cater for the large crowds expected at the venue before the game.
“The GAA wishes to point out that the decision by the CCCC to fix the game for Croke Park originally was based on serious concerns around the health and safety of patrons attending the fixture. The CCCC has received assurances that these issues will be adequately addressed. The original capacity of 8,200 remains in place.
“Tickets purchased for the Croke Park double-header fixture will not be valid for these games and a refund process from the point of purchase has been put in place. Supporters without tickets are urged not to come to St Conleth’s Park on Saturday. Tickets for the new fixtures will be priced at €20/£18 (adults) and €5/£5 (juveniles).”
It does represent a significant u-turn by the GAA, although consistent with their original claim that the sole reason for moving the game out of Newbridge in the first place was because of health and safety concerns, and presuming all these concerns have now been addressed.
Speaking to The Irish Times after Monday's original fixture, Feargal McGill, the GAA's director of games administration, said: "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."