Lilies chief 'disgusted' at neutral venue for qualifier
KILDARE were up in arms last night after Saturday's third-round SFC qualifier against Limerick was fixed for Portlaoise, robbing them of their home advantage.
County chairman John McMahon said they were "disgusted" at the decision and the Kildare executive met last night to discuss their options.
The GAA have rushed to stress that the decision was related solely to the limited capacity of the county's home venue in Newbridge, clearly conscious that the switch could be interpreted as some sort of backlash to Kildare's outspoken criticism of how the Seanie Johnston transfer was handled.
"We are aware this decision might be linked to other recent issues, but it certainly was not and it was not a decision we wanted to take, or took, lightly," said Fergal Magill, secretary of the Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC).
The CCCC have responsibility for deciding venues for matches and they fixed the game for Portlaoise on the grounds that Newbridge, with a reduced capacity of between 7,000-8,000 at present, would not be big enough to host it.
This is not the first time that a county has lost home venue in the qualifiers for safety reasons as Louth and Wicklow have both previously been similarly affected. However, the move has infuriated the Lilywhites.
"These draws are clearly done on a home-and-away basis," McMahon said. "It was made live on the national airwaves and we were drawn first out of the hat and that gave us home advantage.
"For teams and supporters it's not about gate receipts or the size of gates, it is about your team getting through to the next round.
"Getting a home draw helps greatly with that, so it's hard to see how anyone can vindicate taking that advantage away from us."
But the GAA insisted they had moved the game solely for health and safety reasons. They estimated that 9,000 Kildare fans travelled to Cavan last Sunday for a game that attracted 14,558 and expect as many, or more, to follow them this Saturday.
"Even if we had made it all-ticket game at Newbridge, there was a fear that several thousands more could have turned up without tickets," Magill said.
"We could not risk any safety issues that might raise. This way all Kildare fans will be safely accommodated in Portlaoise," said Magill.
St Conleth's Park's capacity was reduced in the past year following a national health and safety audit that the GAA commissioned on all of their county grounds.
The stand-out match in the third round of the football qualifiers is the clash of Kerry and Tyrone, which will have a throw-in of 5.0 in Killarney because Tyrone's minors are involved in the Ulster final at 12.0 on Sunday.
The Antrim v Tipperary game will start at 3.0 in Thurles, while the other two matches will have 7.0 starts.
The All-Ireland hurling quarter-finals will be played as a double-header at Semple Stadium on Sunday week.
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