Tuesday 28 January 2020

Opening a can of worms


THERE may indeed be some reward in heaven for Nemo Rangers GAA club, arising from their gesture in taking the Irish rugby squad in from the cold last Thursday but, once the celestial glow dissolves over the South Douglas road, it reveals some uncomfortable questions.

1 Did Nemo Rangers break the GAA's rules governing the use of its facilities?

2 If so, what action will be taken?

3 If not, is it now permissible for GAA clubs to officially rent their premises for rugby and soccer?

4 How come that in a city the size of Cork, rugby couldn't offer a single suitable alternative when frost ruled out the use of the Presentation College facilities?

5 To what extent will rugby's high-profile outing at Nemo Rangers strengthen the hand of those in the GAA who are demanding that rugby and soccer be banned from Croke Park again once Lansdowne Road reopens next autumn?

It would be easy to fall for the glib line that allowing the Irish rugby squad to use GAA facilities at Nemo - as our picture shows above - was another glorious example of sporting ecumenism. To question it is to risk being portrayed as petty and narrow-minded.

Sure wasn't the facility lying idle anyway? Wasn't it great to see it being used by an Irish rugby squad? And didn't Declan Kidney pass some lovely comments about the GAA and its facilities afterwards, including how rugby would be forever grateful for Croke Park?

Rugby is, in fact, so grateful that once it leaves Croke Park after the Ireland-Scotland game on March 20, it has no intention of returning if it can possibly avoid it. And as for the 32,200 people who will no longer be able to acquire tickets for the much smaller Lansdowne Road, well that's tough. Sure haven't they got TVs?

Soccer couldn't even wait for Lansdowne to reopen before spurning Croke Park. The FAI are fleeing to London for next week's game with Brazil, leaving behind the ridiculous explanation that the venue was outside their control.

The use of Nemo's facilities by the Irish rugby squad could have a very damaging knock-on effect. There's still a sizeable level of support within the GAA for locking Croke Park to even the possibility of hosting rugby and soccer once Lansdowne reopens.

What's more, they are actively campaigning in an effort to defeat a proposal that the GAA leaves its options open. It will be voted on at Congress in April, where, no doubt, images of an international rugby team using GAA facilities in contravention of the rule as generally understood will be employed by those who were opposed to opening Croke Park in the first place.

It will be argued that it's a clear example of how once Croke Park was opened, other GAA facilities around the country would eventually follow.

Opening Croke Park was the correct thing to do (it should have happened years earlier) as it prevented the export of major internationals and also helped the GAA financially. Opening other facilities around the country is not, as the GAA is in opposition to two major professional sports with a global brand and unlimited TV exposure.

The fear now is that episodes such as rugby training in Nemo could convince enough GAA members to support closing Croke Park for good. That would suit the IRFU and FAI, who could then blame the GAA when the capacity differential between Croke Park and Lansdowne becomes a major issue next year.

The GAA came to the rescue of the IRFU and FAI over the last three years through the use of Croke Park, yet both organisations now give the impression that once they spout their 'thanks for the use of the hall' platitudes, they can't wait to return across the Liffey.

Nemo Rangers may have thought they were doing their bit for sporting ecumenism last Thursday but, in reality, they played right into the hands of those who want Croke Park closed for good. That would be a disastrous decision for the GAA, even if rugby and soccer say they won't need it again.

Public opinion will eventually change that mindset but only, of course, if Croke Park remains available.

It would be a pity if that decision were to be influenced by last Thursday's events, brought about because Irish rugby couldn't provide one suitable training facility in the whole of Cork city and Nemo Rangers' willingness to interpret the GAA's rules for their own particular ends.

Irish Independent

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