Friday 14 December 2018

10 key questions as Kildare venue row rumbles on

Cian O’Neill walks across the pitch at St Conleth’s Park, where he insists he and his Kildare team will be on Saturday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Cian O’Neill walks across the pitch at St Conleth’s Park, where he insists he and his Kildare team will be on Saturday. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Venue stand-off gives rise to lose-lose scenario

1. Are positions too entrenched for a resolution at this stage?

There is very little room, if any, to compromise. Having set out their reasons as to why they didn't approve St Conleth's Park for the fixture, based primarily on health and safety grounds, the GAA's Central Competitions Controls Committee can scarcely back down on that front.

If it was more a capacity issue, that would have made such a U-turn easier. But if health and safety is the issue, how can that change now? The same fears hold now, just as they did on Monday morning surely?

Back down and their position on all future fixture issues will weaken enormously. Either way, it's a lose-lose situation for them as the safety issues cited, genuine as their concern and conviction about them are, won't be taken on board by popular opinion.

For Kildare GAA's part, they've made it clear that they won't be playing the game in Croke Park and that Newbridge is perfectly capable of hosting the game, even with a capacity of around 8,300. Yield on that and they'll face a blizzard of criticism from within.

The only possible compromise is to take the game to Portlaoise or Tullamore but Kildare GAA will come out of that situation much worse, having been offered that alternative in the first place.


2. What safety concerns could there be if it's an all-ticket game with an 8,300 capacity?

CCCC harbour concerns that supporters will descend on Newbridge without tickets, leading to potential overcrowding and chaos on the streets outside.

Mayo have the biggest travelling support in the country and the estimate is that they had close to 10,000 in Thurles for their qualifier game against Tipperary.

With proximity to their big Dublin fan base, the feeling was that a game with potential to attract 18,000 to 20,000 could pose trouble.

3. Could these concerns have been addressed?

It's hard to look beyond how an all-ticket match could draw much more than the 8,300 capacity. Surely access to areas of Newbridge close to the ground without a ticket could have been prohibited, just as it is around Croke Park on big match days.

But with the Irish Derby on in the Curragh that may not have been possible. Repeating a 'no ticket, no travel' message repeatedly could have got it across. But inside the ground there were also concerns about access to the terrace, especially at the Kilcullen End, though Kildare were clear in their statement that they have managed with big Division 1 league games already.


4. Are the GAA on safe legal ground?

The former secretary to the Disputes Resolution Authority, Professor Jack Anderson, who is now director of Sports Law at Melbourne Law School, explained how Kildare could set out a strong case to the DRA which, he feels, could hear arguments about the venue wrangle in exceptional circumstances.

The argument is based on the GAA's own rule, 6.28, in the 2017 Official Guide (the most recent on the Association website) that outlines how "home venues shall be used in Rounds 1, 2 and 3 of the All-Ireland Qualifier Series, with the first Team drawn having Home Advantage."

Anderson suggested on Twitter that "if there is any exception to the home venue rule in rounds 1-3 of the All-Ireland qualifiers (eg, ground capacity, health and welfare, season ticket etc) GAA probably should have thought of that beforehand and expressly given the CCCC a discretion but it didn't."

However, an addendum to 6.28 under the heading 'other matters related to the All-Ireland qualifier series' (venues) appears to give the Central Competitions Control Committee those very powers stating that "the above arrangements shall be conditional on Home Grounds being deemed to meet the criteria set down by the National Health and Safety Committee and the Central Competitions Control Committee."

As the CCCC has deemed themselves to be unhappy with some of the criteria for staging the game at St Conleth's Park, they fixed it for another venue.


5. Did it have to be in Croke Park?

No. Once the draw was made and CCCC established that Newbridge couldn't accommodate the game, Kildare were contacted and asked to nominate a venue.

It could have been Portlaoise or Tullamore, if they wanted.

But Kildare didn't respond ahead of the CCCC meeting at noon on Monday and in the vacuum, CCCC fixed a double-header with Cavan, whose ground, Kingspan Breffni Park, is out of action and Tyrone.

There is no indication that either county is dissatisfied with that arrangement.

But it has prompted renewed accusations of elitism and an association driven by money.


6. Is money a factor?

If more people get to attend the game and that generates more revenue, then the answer is yes.

But just allowing more people to attend the game, irrespective of what revenue it generates, in the safest and more comfortable environment possible, appears to be the prime motivation here.

It happened in 2012 when Kildare went to Portlaoise for a home qualifier game against Limerick.

The capacity of St Conleth's then was also around 8,000 but over 12,000 turned up a half-an-hour down the road.

At separate venues, Newbridge and Enniskillen, both games would have likely drawn a combined attendance of around 18,000 to 20,000.

As a double-header, it could make 30,000.

Would it really be worth a 10,000 lift for all this?

7. Are Sky Sports, as TV rights holders, an influence?

Of all the opinions being floated, the idea that Sky have influenced this for the convenience of two games back-to-back is the most nonsensical.

They may have had issues when Meath and Tyrone went to extra-time earlier in the month, eating into the opening stages of Kilkenny/Wexford in Nowlan Park, but have now introduced a red button option to allow viewers to switch in that event again.

Does anyone really believe that having games at two different venues on a Saturday evening is such an inconvenience to a company of its size?

The attraction of Newbridge and possibly Enniskillen would surely he huge for them.


8. Are Kildare right to stand firm?

St Conleth's Park is not in good shape.

Even the stand doesn't have much seated accommodation and egress off it can be slow.

Such features as press and toilet facilities are not at a good standard but it's manageable and, having been forced out in the past for championship and league matches in 2012 and 2013, there is much sympathy for their situation.

Even the director of games administration Feargal McGill has acknowledged he can understand where Kildare are coming from.

Apart from supporters, they must think of ground advertisers and local businesses who back them and deserve return on a night like this.


9. Can Kildare challenge the decision?

Under the GAA rules a fixture can't be challenged. But once a penalty is imposed, disqualification and a fine in this case, Kildare can then take that avenue.


10. What's the worst-case scenario?

The game isn't played. It will cast a long shadow over the 2018 championship.

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