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GAA simply shooting themselves in the foot

THE phone lines were hopping at Mid-West Radio from early yesterday morning, as Mayo's mounting anger over the decision to fix the Kerry replay for Limerick next Saturday evening reached a crescendo of incredulity.

John O'Mahony, the Mayo manager-turned-Fine Gael TD, was among those who went on air to vent his and his county's gri evance. Soon after he took a call from The Herald.

"At this stage the GAA should reverse their decision," he told us. "They usually don't get things wrong and I would be a huge supporter of them. People will say I'm doing this because I'm from Mayo, but I'm doing it as a GAA person."

Some cynics might also counter that he's doing it as a vote-chasing politician; but they'd be in the minority. In this case, O'Mahony is right and the GAA - for once - have got it wrong. Wrong on three counts ...

PRINCIPLE

The principle of moving an All-Ireland semi-final out of Croke Park to a provincial venue is deeply questionable. Players who reach the penultimate stage in the great All-Ireland race have earned the right to play in Croker. Even when it goes to a second day.

As for precedents, Dublin/Cork heading to Leeside in '83 qualifies as ancient history. The Offaly and Clare hurlers only transported their saga to Thurles on day three in '98 - and besides, they were relocating to the 'Home of Hurling'. This is different.

LOGISTICS

The practicalities of moving Mayo/Kerry Mark II to the Gaelic Grounds - while great news for Limerick city, the Limerick county board and its under-utilised home - will cause a ticket frenzy this week and traffic chaos on the day itself.

There were 52,495 patrons in Croker for the draw, even with the disincentive of a train strike. The current capacity of the Gaelic Grounds, as confirmed by Limerick secretary Michael O'Riordan yesterday, is "between 46,000 and 47,000". Do the maths.

True, Sunday's crowd probably exceeded expectations and some officials might cite the drop-off tendency for replay attendances ... but that isn't always the case and this latest example could be a case in point, when you factor in the feverish anticipation spawned by last Sunday's tumultuous second half.

Either way, if every fan who travelled last Sunday wishes to do so again this Saturday, some 6,000 of them will be left high and dry.

We don't doubt for a minute the atmosphere in Limerick could be something special (remember last year's Munster hurling final) but some fans may have aged a decade in the process of getting there. Saturday afternoons mixed with big GAA matches at provincial venues are a guaranteed recipe for logjams, and the Gaelic Grounds doesn't qualify as the most accessible of venues.

OPTICS

Here is the ultimate double-whammy own goal for the bean counters on the Jones's Road. They are moving a semi-final out of Croker because it's already booked for an American Football game next Saturday and because it "might be" booked for a Dublin/Donegal replay the following Saturday.

If ever you wanted a reason to inflame your paying customers and fuel the growing talk of a disconnect between Croke Park and the grassroots, you have it here on the double.

Now, not for one second are we advocating that the Croke Park Classic between the University of Central Florida and Penn State be sent to Coventry - or even Limerick.

That fixture is set in stone, it can't be moved; although it does beg the question why such a game would be scheduled for Croke Park at the business end of the GAA season, when replays are an ever-present possibility.

But why not simply push the replay back a week? The official line, reiterated yesterday, is that a potential Dublin/Donegal replay is already pencilled in for Saturday, September 7 (the day before the All-Ireland hurling final).

But what are the odds of that happening? Ahem, 14/1 according to Boylesports. And what if the 'doomsday' scenario materialises and you are left with having to accommodate two semi-final replays on the one day?

Okay, so it would be the ultimate ticket frenzy nightmare, given that Dublin and Donegal are liable to pack out Croker on their own this Sunday. But it's a 14/1 shot - ie, there's a 93pc chance that Dublin/Donegal won't require a second day and that would leave Croker free for Mayo and Kerry on Saturday week.

Would they have moved the whole show to Limerick if the Dubs were playing yesterday and it ended in deadlock? Forgive us our scepticism. "The excuse given that maybe Dublin/Donegal will end in a draw - that is the optics of preferential treatment within the organisation itself," O'Mahony complained. It's hard to argue.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Garth Brooks fiasco, the ultimately disastrous pursuit of five gigs carried the whiff of commercialism gone too far.

Now, moving an All-Ireland semi-final out of Croker because of American football and the 7pc possibility of another money-spinning replay reeks of both bad planning and losing touch with your people.

As Joe Brolly proclaimed on The Sunday Game Live: "Sooner or later, the pursuit of money is going to have to give way to communitarian ideals, which are what the GAA is supposed to be founded on."


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