Investment in some GAA grounds will need to be significant for rugby bid to work
Colm Keys examines what the implications will be for some of those GAA venues to be included in the IRFU's bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup
It's more than four years since the GAA's Management Committee recommended to Central Council that the GAA give its approval to the IRFU to allow some of its bigger and better grounds to be used as part of a Rugby World Cup bid in 2023.
It was permission that the association could never really afford not to give.
For sure, if the bid is successful, the sport of rugby in this country will get a significant lift hosting an event of this scale on the doorstep but, realistically, any more than Ireland beating the All Blacks in Chicago last week?
The benefits for the GAA are again goodwill and financial, outlined elsewhere on these pages, not just in terms of rental but in improvements to the grounds shortlisted that will make the final cut ahead of next year's decision.
A minimum of four up to a possible six GAA grounds will be part of the final cut. Croke Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh in Cork and Casement Park in Belfast (once built) are certainties with the location of Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney and Pearse Stadium in Galway, and the wider facilities that the venues offer, appearing to tip the balance in their favour.
Terraces are not an issue for the IRFU as they finalise the bid. In fact, they see the mixture with seats and the different levels of pricing attached as a positive.
But some terracing will be converted to seats and for some of the older grounds, Fitzgerald Stadium and Pearse Stadium, that will be a big enhancement, in line with the GAA's policy of improved spectator experience at all venues.
Outside of Croke Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Casement Park, just two of the other five GAA stadia have floodlights, Elverys MacHale Park in Castlebar and Celtic Park in Derry. So if, as thought, that Fitzgerald Stadium and Pearse Stadium, are to be included, provision for floodlighting may have to be included unless of course they host daytime fixtures only if the bid is successful.
The omission of Semple Stadium is a big surprise given its status. It is considered the GAA's 'second' stadium after Croke Park and can host up over 50,000, the venue for All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals, the All-Ireland U-21 hurling final, the league hurling final and the most popular Munster hurling final venue. But for geographical and accommodation reasons Thurles has been squeezed out, much to the disappointment of the locals.
Tipperary secretary Tim Floyd expressed that disappointment but yesterday but stressed that such a decision was out of the GAA's hands. "There are reasons for it. Obviously we're disappointed. We had two visits (from the inspection team). They seemed very happy with the ground itself," he noted.
The geographical spread of the eight GAA venues listed yesterday is notable, two from each province.
Nowlan Park, home of Kilkenny GAA, would have ticked a lot of boxes for inspectors. It is a tight, compact but very purposeful ground with covered stands on all four sides, the only current GAA ground where this exists. Three of those stands contain seating with impressive changing and medical facilities beneath the recently constructed Ted Carroll Stand.
Nowlan Park's other advantages that put them ahead of most other provincial towns was its proximity to MacDonagh train station and the city centre where there is so much hotel accommodation as Kilkenny's appeal to visitors has spiked over the last couple of decades. But when the final cut is made Nowlan Park may lose out, unless the RWC 2023 bid team extend the number of stadia to 10.
One area where the majority of provincial GAA grounds fall well below the standard required is media facilities. The new Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Casement Park should be up to the mark in this regard, while Nowlan Park again ranks highly. But the other potential stadia will need expansion of TV gantries, desk space, and interview rooms.