'Home' final provides Tipp with an unfair advantage
THERE'S something very curious about the scheduling of Saturday night's Tipperary-Galway All-Ireland U-21 hurling final for Thurles. Why, you might ask, would the Central Competitions Control Committee fix an All-Ireland final for the home ground of one of the participating counties?
Not only that, but the home ground of a county that has just won the senior All-Ireland and whose U-21 team features several of the panel that triumphed in Croke Park last Sunday.
They enjoyed the celebrations in Semple Stadium on Monday and five days later, the scene of the party, which is also their part-time training ground, is 'home' venue for another All-Ireland final. It's a massive advantage for Tipperary, courtesy of the fixture-makers.
Meanwhile, neutral venues like the Gaelic Grounds, Limerick, which also has floodlights, and the splendidly redeveloped O'Connor Park, Tullamore were overlooked. The Galway-Tipperary game doubles up with the Meath-Kerry U-21 'B' final, so Limerick or Tullamore would be just as suitable as Thurles for that game too.
The GAA are predicting that Tipperary's senior success will lead to a crowd of 25,000 on Saturday, with president Christy Cooney predicting "a great evening in Thurles".
No doubt it will be, especially for Tipperary people, who will be delighted to get another chance to celebrate so close to their doorstep. Not quite as tempting if you have to drive 135 miles from Clifden for a game which won't be over until 8.20pm.
Cooney said that CCCC deemed Thurles "the best venue for the game", but what's the fairest venue? Don't the GAA have a duty to be scrupulously even-handed insofar as it's possible when fixing venues? Not even the most distorted of definitions could equate fair with fixing Thurles for a Tipperary-Galway game.
Cooney said that while it was CCCC's responsibility to fix venues, he was very happy with their decision on the U-21 finals and pointed out that Thurles was likely to continue to be used in future years -- which no doubt Tipperary will be glad to hear.
"We've put a massive amount of money into Thurles. It's recognised as our second stadium and as a hurling stadium. We're likely to play our U-21 hurling finals in Thurles for the foreseeable future. Counties have to recognise that," he said.
Now here's a thought. If Thurles is such a fine hurling stadium -- and nobody is querying that -- isn't it time it got even more senior games, like, for instance, all of the Munster senior championship ties? If Croke Park can locate some logic in using Thurles for U-21 finals, even when Tipperary are involved, can they not have an input into deciding that with so much money having been spent on Semple Stadium, it should be used for all Munster senior games?
Actually, they can't. That's a Munster Council call and somehow I wouldn't like to be the one to tell Limerick that they couldn't host any more senior championship action. And if that was hard enough, imagine informing Cork that all their games, including those against Tipperary, would be in Thurles from now on. Can't see it happening, can you?
As for making Thurles a permanent home for U-21 hurling finals, surely a decision of that importance should be discussed at Congress. Somehow, I doubt if there would be much support for that proposal, unless it was amended to ensure that finals would be played elsewhere if Tipperary were involved.
All senior and minor finals are played in Croke Park, even when Dublin are involved, but that's a completely different situation since it's not their training ground. Dublin teams have no more access to Croke Park than any other county, so it's not a home venue in the strictest sense.
And unlike Semple Stadium, it most certainly won't be a party venue for Dublin whenever they next win a senior title, whether in football or hurling.
Common sense wins out over Croker lap of honour
EVEN if it weren't visible through the gloom of winter's early reminder that it's in heavy pre-season training, the sun set on Sunday evening and rose again on Monday morning.
No great surprise there but at least it proved that the earth hadn't fallen off its axis as a result of the public not being allowed onto Croke Park after the All-Ireland hurling final. Alarmist predictions of chaos, rows and stampedes, followed by the panic-induced opening of the newly-erected gates in front of Hill 16, didn't materialise.
Instead, the pitch remained the preserve of those who had a right to be there -- players and mentors from both sides. It made for a much more dignified presentation ceremony, followed by the opportunity for the Tipperary players to run their lap of honour.
It meant that they could be together in their moment of glory, rather than scattered amid thousands of people. As for Kilkenny, the players didn't have to endure the inevitable taunts which would have been tossed in their direction if the hordes had been allowed onto the pitch.
Both sets of players benefited from the change so even if there were no safety issues, it was the right thing to do. Now, the question is how long will it take for people to accept the common sense motives behind keeping the pitch clear. The sooner that happens, the sooner the barriers can be removed.