Monday 16 September 2019

O'Neill: Backing for Rugby World Cup puts 'country first'

HAWK-EYE technology is on its way to the Croke Park pitch to adjudicate on disputed scores, while deep in the stadium's administration offices staff will be keeping a hawk's eye on the dealings between managers and county boards.

And while all that's going on, the IRFU will be using the names of some of the GAA's best-known grounds to bolster their attempt to stage the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Times are certainly changing in the GAA which, on Saturday, agreed to begin the process of amending their rules in order to make grounds available for rugby Word Cup games if the IRFU's bid to host the tournament is successful.

Croke Park, Pairc Ui Chaoimh, Casement Park, Limerick's Gaelic Grounds, Galway's Pearse Stadium and Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney are the grounds earmarked for rugby action.

Capacity

The Association's headquarters has already staged several rugby internationals and could be made available again without recourse to Congress but it will require a change of rule to open up the other grounds.

Central Council will put a motion to Congress next April, seeking to make the other grounds available specifically for the Rugby World Cup. That will allow the IRFU to proceed with their bid in the knowledge that they have enough grounds.

Lansdowne Road, Thomond Park, Ravenhill and the RDS are the rugby grounds which will be appear on the bid. The final would be played at Croke Park, which has by far the largest capacity of any ground in Ireland.

The proposal to open up Croke Park for rugby and soccer more than a decade ago proved hugely controversial before being finally passed in 2005 but it's unlikely there would be as much opposition to the World Cup plan.

"In an organisation of our size, you're going to get different views but it was significant that it (World Cup proposal) was passed unanimously by Central Council," said GAA president Liam O'Neill after Saturday's meeting.

"The organisation has always been willing to put the country first. We've always been willing to put the national interest ahead of our own narrow interest and we were proud to do it the last time (opening Croke Park)," he added.

Of course, making grounds available for the Rugby World Cup would be very much in the GAA's interest, earning huge rent money while also being in line for special grants to bring the grounds up to the standard required for such a major international event.

And since the World Cup would be held in late September/October, it wouldn't clash with the GAA's championship season.

The IRFU said it "fully understands and respects" the process the GAA must undertake before making grounds available for rugby. However, in light of the Central Council decision, the rugby authorities will be confident that the necessary support will be forthcoming.

IRFU chief executive Philip Browne said that New Zealand's staging of the World Cup last year showed what a country of four million people could achieve. As well as GAA support, the IRFU will need significant Government backing.

"We are at the early stages of examining the feasibility of a bid and part of this study is to determine the interest and support of Government and other relevant bodies," he said.

On more mundane issues, Central Council signed off on the plan to streamline financial arrangements between counties and team managements.

Expenses

It will involve formally registering with Croke Park all personnel involved with teams, giving full information on expenses and other payments and providing detailed returns of the number of training sessions/games undertaken.

County chairmen, secretaries, treasures and Central Council delegates will be required to sign an undertaking that the rules on amateur status are being observed.

Any county which fails to return a management register will not be eligible for funding. Spot checks will be carried out during the season to ensure that counties are complying with the details in their register.

The registration process will begin in September and the new system will come into effect next January.

Regarding Hawk-Eye score-detection technology, Central Council was told that while the experiments in Croke Park had taken longer than expected, the company was confident that the system will be ready shortly.

It's now at 98pc reliability and will soon be up to the level that applies in tennis and cricket.

Irish Independent

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