Thursday 23 May 2019

The day Croke Park opened up to rugby and soccer

Sporting ballot April 16, 2005

Ballot papers are handed out at the 2005 GAA Congress.
Ballot papers are handed out at the 2005 GAA Congress.

Croke Park had never witnessed anything like it, yet stadium officials knew that the celebrated moment it hosted on the afternoon of Saturday, April 16, 2005, would engrave its place ever deeper in Irish sporting history.

"For 227. Against 97. Motion carried," announced GAA president Sean Kelly in a quiet voice as if he were declaring the result of a vote on the most trivial item on the Congress agenda. Instead, he was calling the outcome of a ballot of huge significance to the sporting, social and cultural life of the country.

The debate on whether Croke Park should be opened up to rugby and soccer while Lansdowne Road was undergoing redevelopment had run for ages, swaying hither and thither, often in controversial surges, before finally settling on the unmistakable reality that when the hour called for the GAA to put the national interest first, they delivered emphatically.

A 'no' vote would have left Ireland's rugby and soccer teams fulfilling their fixtures in Britain but instead they headed to Dublin 3 and Croke Park's inviting embrace. It was almost two years before Croke Park was required for its first international action, an emotion-charged occasion when Ireland played France in the first series of the season's Six Nations games.

Ireland lost narrowly (20-17) but the real drama unfolded 13 days later when England arrived in Croke Park. It was an unthinkable scenario for so many decades but once the moment arrived, it was embraced so enthusiastically by the vast majority of people that it is rightly recalled as one of the most remarkable occasions in Irish sport.

The singing of the national anthems (dignified observance of 'God Save the Queen'; spine-tingling rendition of 'Amhran na bhFiann') set the scene for a game that will never be forgotten. Ireland led by 20-3 at half-time en route to a 43-13 win on a night that energised a nation. The vote for progress in 2005 had been thoroughly vindicated.

'When God Saved The Queen at Croker', Pages 12 & 13

Irish Independent

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