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Cork throw weight behind call to keep Croker 'open'

FIVE years after vehemently opposing the opening up of Croke Park for rugby and soccer, Cork are to support a call to declare it available for major international events on a permanent basis.

The GAA will discuss a proposal to allow Central Council to decide on future use of Croke Park at its annual Congress in Newcastle, Co Down, on Saturday week, when it's expected that a majority will vote to retain the situation which has prevailed for the last few years.

Congress agreed in 2005 to open Croke Park up for rugby and soccer for as long as Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped, after which time the ban would return. However, such was the success of the deal with the IRFU and FAI that it has been clear for some time that the mood in the GAA is to leave the current arrangements in place.

The IRFU and FAI have indicated that they will not require Croke Park once they return to Lansdowne Road -- which has been rebranded as the Aviva Stadium -- despite a capacity differential of 32,300. Unless the GAA address the Croke Park issue at this year's Congress, the rule preventing soccer and rugby being played there would be automatically reinstated once Lansdowne opens for business next autumn.

Cork led the opposition to change in 2005, but no longer see any reason to retain the ban. The GAA earned €36m in rent money from the IRFU and FAI for the use of Croke Park since February 2007.

While the Cork County Board have agreed to back the Croke Park move, they will oppose the introduction of the fisted pass in Gaelic football. It is being experimented with in the current National League, but Cork will vote against making it a permanent arrangement. Instead, they want a return to the hand pass which has been in operation for many years.

Meanwhile, GAA president Christy Cooney is confident the Association's agreement with the GPA will be passed, even if Ulster says 'no'. When it was suggested to him yesterday that some Northern counties intend to vote against the deal with the players' body, Cooney said he had no doubts about the prospects of success.

"I'd be absolutely astounded if the motion that's down to recognise the GPA will not succeed," he said. "The feedback is extremely positive. I think it will get through. I don't have any major worries to be honest with you."

Cooney is looking forward to "a humdinger" of an NHL final between Cork and Galway on May 2, even though their final league match on Sunday week is meaningless, as both sides have reached the decider.

A neutral venue for the final is on the cards, as the CCCC is unlikely to award home advantage to the winner of Sunday week's game.

Irish Independent