Saturday 22 July 2017

All-Ireland finals to be played on British soil as pitch torn up for U2

The scene at Croke Park as the final pieces of the pitch were ripped up by mechanical diggers after the Leinster
final on Sunday
The scene at Croke Park as the final pieces of the pitch were ripped up by mechanical diggers after the Leinster final on Sunday
Workmen spread sand on the surface in preparation for the U2 concerts
The scene at Croke Park as the final pieces of the pitch were ripped up by mechanical diggers after the Leinster final on Sunday

Aidan O'Connor

THE All-Ireland football and hurling finals are to be played on British soil in Croke Park for the first time in the GAA's proud 125-year history.

The entire surface at Croke Park is being ripped up to facilitate U2's concerts next weekend but will be replaced by new sods sourced in England.

Croke Park is defending its decision to source all of the stadium's new sod from a specialist turf farm in Scunthorpe. But the stadium is coming under increasing pressure over its decision to depend almost exclusively on British companies to provide pitch advice, seed and turf.

A convoy of UK and Northern Ireland heavy machinery moved onto the pitch on Sunday to begin work on the €1.2m project.

The entire surface is being torn up and tonnes of sand are being spread across a bare surface to cater for the thousands of U2 fans expected to hit Croker next weekend.

A completely new surface will then be planted, farmed in the UK and jointly paid for by U2 and Croke Park.

Croke Park has hired Clive Richardson, a company based in Armagh, to do the contract work.

However, the stadium's decision to hire British consultants Sports Turf Research Institute (STRI) to advise on the project has infuriated one Fianna Fail senator.

"I think this is symbolically a terrible signal for the GAA to be sending out. The GAA are our national sporting institution and Croke Park is our national stadium," said Senator Mark Daly.

"Given the history of the stadium and the pitch I think the GAA should be doing more to source sod from within Ireland rather than importing it. I'm not sure anyone involved in the GAA would be too comfortable with the notion of the All-Ireland finals being played on British soil," he added.

But Croke Park defended its decision last night and dismissed claims of matches being played on British spoil as "ill-informed".

Opinion

Stadium Director Peter McKenna said: "We're not playing games on British soil. It's a strange way to look at it. We need to see the bigger picture. It's an ill-informed opinion."

Mr McKenna said that Ireland does not have the specialist turf farms or grass seed nurseries that can provide Croke Park with what it needs. Experts looked at three turf farms in the UK and one in Slovenia before it made its decision.

U2 have committed to paying 30pc of the €1.2m bill with Croke Park picking up the rest of the tab.

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