Bloody hell, this was a storm nobody saw coming 24 hours ago. But, following the Round 3 draw this morning which saw us pitted against Kildare next Saturday, events have unfolded at dizzying speed. So much so that at this stage it’s impossible to tell for sure if the tie will be played at all.
Let’s aim for some clarity in terms of what happened. The draw this morning handed home advantage in the tie to Kildare, as they were first out of the hat, but venues and times for all ties have to be okayed by the GAA’s CCCC.
Immediately the CCCC recognised there’d be a problem with capacity at St Conleth’s Park. With the fixture forced to be an all-ticket one then, as this piece in the Irish Times confirms (which is worth a careful read, by the way, in particular by those who’ve been quick to pronounce judgment on the rights and wrongs of the decision to move the tie to Croke Park), the capacity at the Newbridge venue would be just over 8,000.
Any eejit can recognise that a ground that could only take 8,000 punters, at least 7,000 of whom would be standing on the terraces, isn’t big enough to cater for a match like this. There were over 8,000 at our Round 1 match against Limerick and more than 11,000 at the Tipp match last weekend. In both cases the vast bulk of those supporters were ours.
Clearly, we’ll be assembling an even bigger crowd for next weekend. And you’d imagine it’s a game for which Kildare would attract a fair bit of support too. That piece linked above confirms that the GAA expects that at least 18,000 would attend the game.
All of which makes the Kildare GAA statement – which is here – so difficult to understand. They claim that they’d have “no difficulty” hosting the game at St Conleth’s Park but are only able to support this claim by referring repeatedly to how they’re “entitled” to do this. Nowhere in the statement is the 18,000 into 8,000 mathematical issue addressed .
Then a besuited Cian O’Neill went on prime time TV, on RTÉ’s Six-One News, to double down on Kildare’s position. He stated he could see no logic in the decision – despite citing the interest of fans as one of his reasons for playing the game at St Conleth’s Park – and insisted that they’d be togged in Newbridge on Saturday evening.
The GAA clearly weren’t buying any of this guff when they came to the conclusion that St Conleth’s Park wasn’t a runner. They could see the venue could cater for less than half the potential attendance and so, like they’ve done so often in the past for other qualifier ties, including to facilitate Kildare, they moved to Plan B.
Kildare, though, wouldn’t nominate an alternative, despite the fact that O’Moore Park in Portlaoise would fit the bill pretty much perfectly (for us as well as for them). This led inexorably to the logic of playing the Cavan/Tyrone game (which couldn’t be fixed for Breffni Park, as it’s closed for redevelopment) and our match with Kildare as a double-header in Croke Park.
Yes, it’s an arrangement that suits Sky Sports down to the ground and, absolutely, there’s no justification for the ticket price-hike that always goes hand-in-glove with matches being fixed for HQ. But, as that piece above makes clear, it was Kildare’s intransigence that, first and foremost, resulted in this outcome.
Which inevitably leads to the question – why? More particularly, why now?
It would be one thing if Kildare GAA had a consistent line to defend here. But they don’t. They sold their soul for grubby cash years ago and, like the rest of Leinster, have for years happily trotted off to play at Croke Park at every available opportunity. For Heaven’s sake, they even played Dublin at Croke Park as a home game in the League a few years back.
And how come this is being held up as some kind of exemplar about the GAA selling its soul more generally? That particular train left the station a long, long time ago, with far less attendant wailing at its departure too. Probably because Twitter hadn’t been invented then, I guess.
So this poor-old-us routine from Kildare GAA doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid. What have they done to develop Newbridge as a venue suitable for matches like this? That’s right – absolutely nothing. The place is an embarrassment and the only surprise is that the GAA still allows them to continue playing League matches there in this day and age, never mind championship ones.
So, as things currently stand, Kildare will be warming up at St Conleth’s Park on Saturday evening while our lads will be doing likewise up at HQ. It’s a ludicrous state of affairs.
But it’s not one that can, despite what the usual suspects might claim, be laid at the door of our County Board. This is a spat that involves the GAA and Kildare, we’re just collateral damage.
It goes without saying that we’ll play wherever we’re sent next weekend. Newbridge would never have been ideal for us but we’d have gone there had we been ordered to do so. Some of us – a fairly small minority but, hey, who’s counting? – might even have managed to get in to see the game.
It’s hard to see the GAA back-tracking now. Indeed, if the CCCC caves on this then they may as well dissolve themselves altogether and let fixtures venues be decided instead on the basis of the popularity of Twitter hashtags or some kind of similar metric.
Hopefully, sense will break out and that this occurs sooner rather than later. It doesn’t help, of course, that Kildare have painted themselves so badly – and in such a public way – into a corner on the issue.
There’s no easy way out for them now, just like there’s no easy way to jam 18,000 fans into a venue that holds 8,000. But try telling that to Cian O’Neill and his fulminating fellow-travellers. What a mess.