GAA urged to open up all county grounds to rival sports
Congress to discuss call to apply Croke Park rule across board and rent other stadia to other sports
Ten years after the ban on renting Croke Park for non-GAA sports was lifted, all county grounds could be in line for similar use from next month.
The GAA will consider a Clare motion at its annual Congress on February 28, calling for county grounds to be treated the same as Croke Park. Under current rule, Central Council can decide at any time to rent Croke Park for non-GAA sports, a deal which applied for rugby and soccer internationals while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped.
Clare want to extend that arrangement to all county grounds, arguing that it doesn't make sense to continue with a ban while Croke Park operates under a separate deal.
The campaign is being led by the St Joseph's club in Milltown-Malbay, which was also to the forefront of the drive to open Croke Park.
Club member Noel Walsh, a former Munster Council chairman and GAA presidential candidate, said the same rules should apply to county grounds as Croke Park.
"We are not saying that county grounds should be opened for all sorts of business but that they be treated similar to Croke Park, where Central Council can make the decision," he said.
"Congress is the only body that can legislate for other grounds and since it meets only once a year, there's no provision for making a quick decision at any other time, irrespective of how solid the case might be to open up a particular county ground for a special event.
The GAA has already agreed in principle to support the IRFU's bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup by making some grounds available.
Walsh believes it makes sense to apply the same logic to all GAA Grounds, subjects to Central Council approval.
"Central Council can be relied on to do the right thing, just as they did with Croke Park. If you had a situation where there was a request for a county ground to be opened up at fairly short notice for a special event, they should be allowed to make the decision, rather than being blocked by rule," he said.
"It might not arise very often, but we should be ready."
He mentioned the recent Connacht-Munster rugby game, which sold out the Galway Sportsground (capacity 7,500) as an example where GAA co-operation could prove beneficial to all sides.
Pearse Stadium, located across the city in Salthill, has a capacity of around 30,000.
"The day might come too when it would make sense for Munster to switch from Thomond Park to the much larger Gaelic Grounds for a particular game.
"Of course it's possible that there would be no demand for any county ground but I don't think we should have our hands tied by a rule that doesn't apply to Croke Park and which won't apply to several other grounds if the 2023 rugby World Cup comes to Ireland," said Walsh.
He recalled how those opposed to opening up Croke Park more than a decade ago claimed that it would be a disastrous move by the GAA.
"Instead, it worked out great, earning much-needed finance for the GAA and forging excellent relations with other sports bodies.
"We have nothing to fear from putting county grounds on the same footing as Croke Park.
"I hope Congress sees it that way," he said.
The GAA earned €36 million in rent from the IRFU and FAI for making Croke Park available for rugby and soccer internationals matches between the years of 2007 and 2010.
It followed a historic decision, taken at Congress 2005, to amend Rule 42, which precluded the use of any GAA ground for other sports.