Not why, but why not? Croker to host first ever LGFA game
Dublin-Mayo clash ahead of Dublin-Roscommon mens ‘promises to be a great game’
The Dublin team at last year’s Senior All-Ireland final. Photograph: ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
Around lunchtime last Thursday week, Helen O’Rourke received a call from Mick Bohan, the Dublin women’s football manager, asking a quick favour. Any chance their league game against Mayo could be played at Croke Park?
For O’Rourke, now 20 years as chief executive of the Ladies Gaelic Football Association, it was certainly a first: no women’s league game has ever been played at GAA headquarters. Her immediate reaction wasn’t “why” but “why not?” – which offers some indication of how far the women’s game has come.
Still, with two weeks’ notice, it wouldn’t be a straightforward decision. O’Rourke couldn’t make any formal announcement until all the pieces were in place. Again, however, “why not?” became the response from all involved. On Monday it was confirmed that Dublin-Mayo would provide the curtain-raiser to the men’s division one showdown between Dublin and Roscommon in Croke Park on Saturday evening.
Says O’Rourke: “When I first got the call from Mick Bohan, it was really just to point out that their match against Mayo was at home that weekend, and the fact there was nothing else on with the Dublin-Roscommon game in Croke Park, and that if we spoke with the GAA, might there be any possibility of a double-header?
“So that was the start of it. After that I spoke with John Costello, CEO of the Dublin county board, just to make sure they were happy enough for us to proceed with the GAA, given it was their fixture, as such. And had they any objection? And straight away he said no.”
All the logistics
“Then we made contact with the GAA, and Derek Kinnevey, our media officer, got involved, to explore all the logistics. It wasn’t just a case of fixing the game for Croke Park,” O’Rourke says. “There were lots of considerations, starting with the stadium opening two hours earlier, getting the stewards in earlier, having all the facilities available, too, dining, bar facilities, the big screen, all that.
“Then we had to reach commercial agreement, with their sponsor [Allianz], and our sponsor [Lidl], such as what signage was allowed, and when it would be allowed. But the Dublin county board and the GAA have been absolutely fantastic, in facilitating it, and were only too happy to have it there.”
Occasional league and championship double-headers involving the women’s and men’s games have been played in recent years, of course, but this is the first time two such league games have been played in Croke Park. There may be ample opportunity and appetite for more, though O’Rourke points to a few immediate obstacles.
“I know people say, why don’t we have more double-headers?” she says. “It’s always hard to host double-headers during the league, because of the weather, trying to find a pitch that can take two games in quick succession. There aren’t many pitches in Ireland that can take two games like that. Galway had one planned at home last Sunday, with the senior men’s game, but it had to be pulled the evening before because of bad weather.
“But having out first national league game in Croke Park is very exciting. And of course it’s something we’d like to see, and want to see more of where it’s possible. Maybe other national league games in Dublin next year we can look at where the women can play with the men. But, again, we’re limited to the number of pitches that can accommodate it.”
Cost, says O’Rourke, wasn’t a deciding factor: “To be honest, that didn’t really enter into it. The fact that it’s Croke Park does mean there will additional cost there, but sometimes the revenue issue isn’t important when it come to the profiling of the game like this.”
Saturday’s occasion is nicely poised: Dublin and Mayo have long been close rivals (Bohan, in his previous term as Dublin manager, was involved in the 2003 All-Ireland final, which Mayo won), and just last summer they played a classic All-Ireland semi-final, this time won by Dublin thanks to Sinéad Aherne’s late free.
Mayo currently trail joint leaders Dublin and Galway by nine points, although with a fewer game played, and Saturday’s game also marks the first outing in Croke Park for legendary Mayo stalwart Cora Staunton since 2008.
O’Rourke also points to some of the family ties: Jack and Sarah McCaffrey, and Fiona Hudson and fiancee Paul Flynn. “It’s just great for the players, really. Mayo have been coming good again, the last few years, had a great run last year league and championship, making the league final. It promises to be a great game, and I think having it ahead of the men’s game adds something more to it.”
The merging of the the GAA and LGFA continues, although O’Rourke says it can’t be rushed.
“We’re continuously working together, and every year are getting closer on different projects and different initiatives that are there. In the coming weeks we’re driving new guidelines on clubs that want to a ‘one club’. And we have a very, very good relationship with the GAA at the moment.
“To be honest I think it’s something that will happen, organically, over the years. I think it is better that people work on it together like that.”
And the prospect of the women’s and men’s All-Ireland finals ever being played at Croke Park on the same day?
“Of course, that’s a situation that could work well, down the road. There’s nothing to say it will never happen.”