Saturday 3 December 2016

GAA won't get 'blank cheque' for stadium revamps if Ireland lands Rugby World Cup

But bid's 'substantial' cash input would help improve eight grounds

Published 26/11/2016 | 02:30

Peter McKenna, stadium and commercial director of the GAA. Photo: Dave Maher
Peter McKenna, stadium and commercial director of the GAA. Photo: Dave Maher

The GAA won't get a blank cheque to develop eight of its grounds if Ireland's bid to host the 2023 World Rugby Cup is successful.

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However, Peter McKenna, the Association's stadium and commercial director, says that "the contribution will be substantial" and insists that improvements must be permanent and sustainable.

"The first thing to say is that we all hope the bid is successful because it would be great for the country and the economy," he says. "From a GAA viewpoint and the use of our grounds, we won't get a blank cheque but obviously we will require a major financial injection.

"We have to make sure that what we do is right for the long term and not just for the duration of the World Cup.

"We'll need to ensure that solid, permanent structures are built, rather than something that's needed for the World Cup only. And they have to be sustainable. We might have to invest too to make that happen."

In addition to receiving money to upgrade its grounds, the GAA will also bank a large chunk of rent money, making it a win-win scenario for the Association.

Croke Park, Pearse Stadium (Galway), Elverys MacHale Park (Castlebar), Fitzgerald Stadium (Killarney), Pairc Ui Chaoimh (Cork), Nowlan Park (Kilkenny), Casement Park (Belfast) and Celtic Park (Derry) are the eight GAA grounds named in the preliminary bid for rugby's glamour event. Croke Park would host the finals and semi-finals.

McKenna believes that the GAA's close relationship with the IRFU in 2007-10, the period when rugby internationals were staged in Croke Park, will be a help to the World Cup bid.

"We learned a lot about running international events in those years and I'm sure the IRFU learned from us too. We have built up a very good relationship with them," he says.

The Ireland v England rugby international in Croke Park in 2007 is still regarded as one of the great historic moments in Irish sport, an occasion which McKenna describes as "a seminal event".

The GAA's relationship with the IRFU made it easier to support the application to make grounds available for the Rugby World Cup in all four provinces.

It also underlined the level of cooperation that exists between sporting bodies in the national interest.

"Anyone looking in can see that. There's no doubt that this country can host the Rugby World Cup. We're very good at turning out for sporting events, whatever they are, so there would be no problem filling grounds all over the country,"

McKenna also believes that the positive spin-off for the GAA would be huge, showcasing their venues worldwide, with Croke Park at the pinnacle as a stadium that can match the best in the world.

"It would be a great opportunity for us. It's exciting to be involved in it as it has so much potential for the country as a whole," he says.

"The GAA's role in that would be significant and the fact that we can offer so many grounds for such a massive international event is something we can be very proud of."

Irish Independent

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