GAA ticket sales are continuing for Saturday's round three All-Ireland football qualifier between Kildare and Mayo at Croke Park, despite the threat of Kildare not showing up on the day and lining out instead at their home ground St Conleth's Park in Newbridge.
The stand-off between Kildare and the GAA continued yesterday, with Kildare football manager Cian O’Neill reiterating his firm stance on the matter, claiming “it’s Newbridge or nowhere”.
O’Neill also accused the GAA of presenting a “convenient untruth” with regard to the health and safety issues at St Conleth’s Park and said “there will be long-lasting implications for the organisation as a whole if they think they can treat players like this”.
There were reports that Kildare officials had been invited to Croke Park in an effort to reach some sort compromise, although the GAA declined to comment further on their original stance, Feargal McGill, the GAA's director of games administration, telling The Irish Times that "the game has been fixed for 7.0pm in Croke Park, and that is not going to change under any circumstances" and that "if Kildare don't show up in Croke Park on Saturday at 7.0pm the game will be awarded to Mayo."
Kildare were entitled to home advantage, having been drawn first from the bowl on Monday morning, before a meeting of the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) later decided that the 9,020 capacity at St Conleth's Park was not suitable for "health and safety" reasons; for all-ticket games that capacity is further reduced by 10 per cent.
In a press release prior to Monday's round three draw, where all the winners from round two are drawn against each other, it was stated that "the first team drawn will have home advantage" with only one "exception": a Division Three or Four team from the current year's Allianz league drawn against a Division One or Two team will have home advantage. (Kildare were relegated from Division 1).
Tickets for the Saturday’s game, to be played in Croke Park as double-header with the meeting of Cavan and Tyrone (5.0pm), remained on sale on the GAA website throughout the day: stand tickets are priced at €25.00, Tyrone are also expected to bring a large number of supporters, many of whom will have also purchased tickets in advance.
Mayo had indicated they are willing to play the game wherever they are requested, but are preparing for it to be played at Croke Park. A spokesperson for Mayo was unable to indicate how many tickets had been sold in the county.
Kildare went ahead with a closed training session in Newbridge on Tuesday evening, along with O’Neill, on the basis they were preparing for the game being played at Newbridge, with no suggestion that they were open to any compromise.
Earlier, O’Neill had called a press conference for 5pm, prior to that training session, only for that to be cancelled some two hours in advance, as O’Neill cited work commitments. Earlier he told Kildare FM that he “would like to think that common sense, logic and fairness and fair play will prevail here from the GAA’s perspective and realise that we all make mistakes”.
Kildare have also made a written submission to Croke Park outlining the reasons why they would not be fulfilling the fixture at GAA headquarters, an earlier statement saying: “We are making it clear that we will not play this game in Croke Park. 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.”
They will also need to write to the GAA two days before the game, reiterating that stance, in order to avoid further suspension, if indeed they fail to fulfil the fixture and Mayo are handed the walkover.
The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) also came out to back Kildare, their
chairman Séamus Hickey describing it as unacceptable that players be subjected to such additional stress around a championship game : "The main concern from the GPA is the consistent application of rules and fixturing that players can prepare adequately for fixtures. Now we have a situation that Mayo players are preparing for a game in Croke Park while being open to the possibility that it could be changed back to St Conleth's Park.
“That’s not a situation that is acceptable or tolerable for our players, especially at such a busy part of the year where they are balancing their lives with their sport. All preparations hinge on these decisions. Decisions made without considering the players is not acceptable in our eyes.”
The stand-off appeared to deepen further when earlier on Tuesday morning, CCCC chairman Ned Quinn suggested on Newstalk radio there may be "animosity" outside of St Conleth's Park if season ticket-holders showed up on the day and were unable to gain admittance.
“The risk would be that people would get involved with other spectators, that’s the risk. I wouldn’t call it crowd trouble but there could be animosity shown to people who had tickets and they couldn’t get them, claiming they were regular supporters of Kildare.”
According to the GAA website, the double-bill from Croke Park is also still set to go out live on Sky Sports, although they too have issued a statement to say “Sky has absolutely no influence on the selection of venues for live televised matches. In any event, we will have crews ready and in place to film this weekend’s games regardless of where they take place.”