Dubs to light up Croke Park
Saturday night fever beckons as All-Ireland champions play as part of tasty double-headers
THE worst kept secret of the GAA winter was confirmed yesterday with the official announcement that Dublin will play their home Allianz Football League matches at Croke Park.
In what is being seen as a major boost for their championship campaign, Pat Gilroy's charges will have four games at headquarters after the Dublin County Board and the GAA reached agreement following six weeks' negotiations.
Incoming Dublin County chairman Andy Kettle welcomed the move. "We're extremely happy," he said. "This is the result of six weeks of hard work and negotiations. The games fit into our schedule nicely and this is a big part of our strategic plan as regards promotion of Gaelic games in the county."
And the Dubs' fixture list for the new season is an enticing one, with All-Ireland champions Cork, finalists Down, traditional rivals Kerry and Mayo all set to visit Jones's Road. Three of the four matches will take place under lights on Saturday nights at the venue.
Narrow losers to Cork in this year's All-Ireland semi-final, Gilroy's men will be starting the season away at Armagh, whom they knocked out of this year's championship, on the first weekend in February. Their first clash at the 82,300-capacity stadium will be a mouth-watering rematch with the Rebels, whom they led for most of their August clash before letting their lead slip late on.
Anthony Daly's hurlers are set to benefit from the move, with two of their fixtures added to the bill as curtain-raisers. They will face Tipperary as the opening match on February 19 in a unique chance to see the All-Ireland football and hurling champions on the one billing.
A league win over Liam Sheedy's men was one of the few highlights of Daly's charges' last campaign.
Munster champions Kerry will be next up for the Dubs a week later, while Mayo will be the visitors for the only match scheduled for a Sunday.
Kilkenny will take on the hurlers on April 2, with Down returning to the venue where they so agonisingly missed out on All-Ireland glory in September the same night.
The Cats swept past Dublin in the Leinster semi-final last year and the clash will be another test of progress under Daly's regime.
Although they have previously moved league games to Croke Park, Dublin have spent the majority of the last decade lining out at Parnell Park.
GAA president Christy Cooney was also in favour of the move. With the stadium now lying idle for much of the winter after the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road was completed, the association are keenly aware of the lack of post-season games at the venue.
Dublin's last league match at Croke Park was a huge success when 79,161 spectators turned up to watch them play Tyrone's in January 2009.
However, that night did have the once-off attraction of a fireworks display to launch the GAA's 125th year celebrations.
Cooney believes the move will be a good one for the association, the league and for Dublin.
"Croke Park is, from a spectators point of view, a lot more attractive than Parnell Park," he said. "It may encourage more people to come to the games, especially from the visiting counties.
"It great that we are in a position to make more use of Croke Park for our own games now that we don't have soccer and rugby there."