Seán Moran: GAA correct not to respond to Kildare ultimatum
Croke Park’s CCCC has the ultimate responsibility of making fixtures
St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge. Croke Park decreed it wasn’t suitable to host the Kildare versus Mayo game citing ‘health and safety’ concerns. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
Whatever the outcome, as of last night unknown, of the current fixture imbroglio concerning where – or if at all – Kildare get to play Mayo, the GAA has a serious problem on his hands.
On one level it’s a communications issue; the protocols surrounding the making of fixtures are, on the evidence of the firestorm that has erupted, little known or understood.
It would have been a good idea to spell out in the RTÉ studio where the draw for Round Three of the All-Ireland qualifiers was held, live on air, that home advantage is subject to the deliberations of the Central Competitions Control Committee.
In other words the GAA is not breaking its own rules by refusing to grant home fixtures if it considers that there isn’t a suitable venue for them.
It’s probably unlikely that this modest disclaimer would have made a significant difference to the general chorus of discontent that greeted the decision not to play the match in Newbridge after Kildare had been drawn first out of the hat but at least it would have explained the situation to the public.
The rule book isn’t a model of clarity on this, either, but it is clear. It states at 6.28 (2) that “home venues shall be used in Rounds 1, 2 and 3 of the All-Ireland qualifier series with the first team drawn having home advantage” but yet at 3.27, the CCCC is given responsibility “for competition scheduling and arrangements for and control of games (excluding appointment of referees) under the jurisdiction of the Central Council.”
The requirements of health and safety are specifically cited in the section governing the round-robin All-Ireland quarter-finals but not elsewhere in the rule. They are included, though, in the competition regulations for the qualifiers, as authorised by Central Council earlier this year.
Anyway, how could a committee charged with making fixtures not take those considerations into account?
It’s easy to see where confusion might have arisen on the part of Kildare manager Cian O’Neill, who interpreted events as conferring a right of home venue: “we earned it by winning our last two matches on the road, and that’s not going to be taken away from us”.
It is however one thing for a disappointed manager to misinterpret complicated rules and another for GAA administrators, who could reasonably be expected to be aware of the contents of the Official Guide.
Yet Kildare’s county board unequivocally backed the manager’s ultimatum that Kildare would turn up in Newbridge and nowhere else. It’s not as if there wasn’t recent precedent for county boards intervening to defuse such stand-offs.
When Roscommon manager Kevin McStay aired his views on the venue for the Connacht final after winning last month’s semi-final, he made much the same point as O’Neill – that should Galway be their opponents his team would turn up at their home venue of Dr Hyde Park and await developments.
Roscommon’s county board significantly took a more emollient line, saying that they “fully accepted” that the Connacht Council would decide the venue. It ended up in the Hyde but it would be a stretch to say that McStay’s ultimatum was the deciding factor.
The Gaelic Players Association also made a curious intervention on the matter, demanding that the GAA fix the match for Newbridge.
“The GAA decision to move this game from its original venue of St Conleth’s Park to Croke Park is unacceptable,” ran the statement despite the ‘original venue’ being Croke Park – as determined by the CCCC within a couple of hours of the draw – a decision characterised in the press release as being “11th hour”.
The CCCC was fully within its rights to do so but there was also a necessity to explain the reasoning. That explanation hasn’t been terribly compelling – essentially that there were fears that supporters without tickets for the 8,200 capacity ground would cause a public order issue in Newbridge. Has this happened at other all-ticket venues?
That doesn’t change the fact that they are entitled to have concerns just as others are free to disagree with them. Neither is it reasonable that if the CCCC have any reservations on the matter they should swallow them and go ahead because their apprehensions might be exaggerated.
Fundamentally, the ground is too small for the crowd that could plausibly be expected to attend, a potential issue for any venue with a capacity of fewer than 10,000.
This has already been seen in the provinces where Waterford’s hurlers had no home advantage in the Munster round robin because of the state of Walsh Park.
In Leinster, Wicklow manager John Evans wanted to play Dublin at home in Aughrim but more than a year ago the provincial council had decided that Dublin wouldn’t play outside of Croke Park, Portlaoise, Kilkenny and Tullamore.
Predictably, the decision not to stage the match in Newbridge has inflamed all sorts of agenda from the usual suspects of ‘Corporate Park’ to the deal with Sky which was supposed to have influenced the decision to stage the matches, both of which it will televise, in Croke Park.
The latter allegation was given full rein by Sky’s broadcasting rivals RTÉ and Newstalk despite it being transparently spurious. Kildare had refused to nominate an alternative venue despite being put on notice that Newbridge mightn’t be allocated the fixture. Had they done so, the match would now be listed for Tullamore of Portlaoise.
Were that the case there would have been no offer to Cavan to make up a double bill at Croke Park and the matches would have been separately broadcast.
There is also no apparent reason why the double bill is of material benefit to the GAA and certainly not when set against the controversy that has been sparked. Crowds won’t be enhanced given the extra distance involved for the Ulster counties and the possibility that Mayo will simply be given a walkover.
The one imperative in the whole sorry episode from Croke Park’s perspective is that they can’t have a county wantonly refusing to abide by its directives in relation to fixtures. Setting such a precedent would lead to anarchy.