MacHale Park to host Mayo’s championship clash with Galway

Resurfacing works now ahead of schedule at the Castlebar venue

With both Kerry and Mayo keeping schtum ahead of Sunday's Allianz Football League Division One final at Croke Park it's slightly more difficult to ask or tell which of them has the greater need or desire to win.

The traditional pre-final media event scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled after players from Kerry and Mayo were pulled due to the continuing stand-off between the Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) and the GAA over player expenses. They rarely give much away; still it can leave trace hints of something.

Kerry football manager Jack O’Connor we already know has a thing about winning the league, working it into his preparations before his three previous All-Ireland wins over the years – in 2004, 2006 and 2009 – and his only intention for his third coming as Kerry manager is to win another All-Ireland. Winning another league along with way clearly wouldn’t do that chance any harm.

There is recent history here; in the 2019 final, Mayo beat Kerry in Croke Park, 3-11 to 2-10. Kerry won back the title in 2020, before sharing it with Dublin last year. They haven't won three on the trot since the early 1970s.

Whether anyone from Mayo would admit it, win or lose on Sunday they already have one eye and possibly more on their Connacht football quarter-final against Galway on April 24th, just three weeks or 21 days later, depending on which sounds more pressing.

There is a fresh circle around that date after the Mayo County Board confirmed on Tuesday that Hastings Insurance MacHale Park would be ready to host the game. Mayo played all their home league games at neutral Connacht venues due to the pitch resurfacing works being carried out at the Castlebar venue, beginning last summer.

Originally May 1st was set as the likely date for completion, the works costing an estimated €300,000, and Mayo chairman Séamus Tuohy had told club delegates at the county board meeting earlier this month that things were “progressing nicely”, in terms of the pitch resurfacing works at Hastings Insurance MacHale Park.

“All our parameters and all our areas of testing were excellent [in early February], it was consistent right across the board, so we are definitely on target,” he said.

“We’re having another inspection on the second week in March to make the final decision. There are a number of recommendations that have been passed on to us from that previous inspection, particularly in relation to nutrients and maintenance care.”

The clement weather conditions of late have ensured no setback or delay thus avoiding the need to contemplate a neutral venue. Last July, the Connacht football final between Mayo and Galway, originally set for Castlebar, was moved to Croke Park to allow for a larger crowd due to then Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings at outdoor events.

Home advantage

Kerry aren’t out in the Munster football championship until Saturday, May 7th, playing Cork in the semi-final, although there is now some fresh doubt over where and possibly when that game will take place.

At the start of last month, the Cork County Board confirmed that game would be moved from Páirc Uí Chaoimh to Páirc Uí Rinn, as remedial work on the playing surface at Páirc Uí Chaoimh would still be underway after the Ed Sheeran concerts at venue at the end of April.

It then emerged that the need to address structural issues at Páirc Uí Rinn before May 7th meant the game would be switched to Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney, with Kerry then conceding home advantage the next time the counties met in the championship.

Cork haven't beaten Kerry in a championship match in Killarney since the 1995 Munster final, and the Examiner reported on Tuesday that a strongly worded letter from the Cork football management has called for the Munster Council to stick with their original venue at Páirc Uí Rinn, and if that's not suitable for May 7th, then the game should be refixed for a later date in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, or moved to a neutral venue.

For now, that would appear to rule out the prospect of Cork travelling to Killarney. Cork have also expressed concern at changing the venue again, and called on the county board on their support on the matter too.

As things stand the only Cork senior men's championship game currently scheduled to be played at Páirc Uí Chaoimh this summer is the big Munster hurling championship opener against All-Ireland champions Limerick on April 17th.

Their third round game was originally due to be played in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on May 15th, against Clare, before that had also been refixed for FBD Semple Stadium on May 1st.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics