Eugene McGee: Absence of adequate GAA venues throughout the country is embarrassing
Croke Park, as we all know, is a world-class stadium and has provided the GAA with the greatest boost the organisation has ever received since its foundation in 1884.
The venue now has a world-class reputation, firstly because of the arrival of international rugby and soccer there, and also because of the high standing it has as a concert venue, with the notable exception of Garth Brooks gigs, of course.
However, after that piece of reflective glory, the GAA nationally has many questions to answer about the manner in which it spent its hard-earned cash, most of which was contributed by supporters paying good money over that past 131 years at venues all over Ireland.
After all that time, we still have many grounds not fit for purpose, by which I mean venues are not suitable for the purposes for which they were originally provided.
That is why the GAA is now in an embarrassing situation in relation to counties which have not managed to provide adequate conditions for watching major football and hurling games.
County grounds should, after 131 years, be capable of meeting the needs of their own county's big championship matches if they are scheduled but many do not. Stadiums in Kildare, Longford, Wickow, Louth and some others are not deemed by the GAA to be capable of accommodating crowds that would have games fixed at home against leading counties. Included in that, of course, is Dublin, if we apply the same criteria to the metropolitans as to the other counties mentioned.
Parnell Park is not capable of hosting a football game in the Leinster senior championship but, of course, that problem is solved by the availability of Croke Park, which is now, in reality, Dublin's home championship venue. Apart from venues listed above, there are several more that cannot accommodate crowds of even 15,000, which begs the question: Has the GAA spent its stadium development money wisely over the past 20 to 50 years?
For example, Munster has four major stadiums: Thurles, Killarney, Limerick - and Cork, which is currently being redeveloped. But how well are these expensive multi-million-euro grounds utilsed?
Killarney can only be filled once every two years - and that is assuming the Kerry-Cork Munster final saga continues, which is by no means certain. The Cork venue is only slightly better in this regard because it occasionally has Munster hurling finals. Limerick is even being described by prominent GAA people in that county as a white elephant because of the very few times it is ever filled to capacity. And Waterford and Clare don't have grounds capable of taking crowds of 30,000 or more.
In Antrim, about £70m is going to be spent on a new stadium in Belfast to replace Casement Park, but every other county ground in Ulster is capable of staging a provincial championship game.
This shows that the Ulster GAA people have managed their financial affairs better than any other province, but we must remember that the British government will be paying for a major part of that Casement redevelopment.
And no one can deny that Ulster does need a major stadium like the new Casement Park, with apologies to the legendary Clones, of course!
As far as I know, there has never been a clear-cut policy within the GAA for allocating adequate stadiums on a geographical, common-sense basis around Ireland.
We don't need four top-class venues in a six-county province like Munster, while Leinster with 12 counties can only provide three: Kilkenny, Portlaoise and Wexford.
So the comments last week by the Leinster chairman, John Horan, about building a new 40,000 stadium somewhere on the edges of the M50 motorway, do seem logical, provided it can be fully utilised. And that is the rub, of course. Such a venue should be a home Leinster game for Dublin, Meath, Louth, Kildare and possibly Westmeath, thereby making the ground financially viable in the future and limiting over-expensive development in those other counties.
My guess is that some or all of those four counties will kick out that proposal and insist on developing suitable venues in their own county at huge expense, most of which will be borrowed. But who will pay for that - surely not the GAA at central level, who would merely be subsidising the inactivity of other counties in former times.
The best small stadium in Ireland at present is Tullamore. It should be a model for other Leinster counties to undertake projects catering for around 15,000, and leave the proposed new venue for really big Leinster games. But as we have seen, common sense in relation to building GAA stadiums has been scarce on the ground. It is hard to see that changing unless, of course, this time money alone talks.
Proposal to finish off season within calendar year to be welcomed
There has been a lot of debate in recent months about the GAA proposal - which is expected to go before Congress next February - to have all games played off in the calendar year, meaning that every competition, even the north Kerry championship final, would have to be concluded by December 31.
This is simply to ensure that all counties run their competitions efficiently, and it is widely welcomed by players at all levels.
It is only logical to set the finishing date for any event, be it sport, business or industry, and work back from that point.
That way everybody knows in advance what the cut-off is and must work to achieving that.
A good example of the present system will be seen when Tipperary start their football league campaign at the end of January.
Presumably, the Clonmel Commercials players - like county star Michael Quinlivan - will be excused from the Tipperary team as they await their All-Ireland club championship semi-final on February 13, meaning those lads will be absent when Tipp play in early Division 3 matches.
That is a severe blow for Tipperary and would not happen if the competitions were played in the calendar year.
This is something that has hurt several counties in recent years.
Just one good reason for changing the system.