Monday 18 February 2019

Martin Breheny: Seven-day wait would have avoided another needless controversy

GAA president Liam O'Neill has said the association was regularly criticised for not playing more games outside Croke Park, yet still came under attack when they chose Limerick for the semi-final replay. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
GAA president Liam O'Neill has said the association was regularly criticised for not playing more games outside Croke Park, yet still came under attack when they chose Limerick for the semi-final replay. Photo: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The key question still awaits a satisfactory answer: why not defer the Kerry-Mayo replay until Saturday week and play it in Croke Park?

There is no logical reason why that could not have been done, thereby avoiding a controversy which is totally unnecessary. The only problem that could have arisen surrounds the possibility of Donegal v Dublin ending level next Sunday, in which case it would have to be replayed on Saturday week.

Even Croke Park's capacity would not satisfy demand for two semi-final replays on the same day, but they would have had to proceed as a double-header. Unsatisfactory, yes but unavoidable in the circumstances.

In any event, the odds on a draw next Sunday are 18/1, surely long enough to take a chance.

GAA president Liam O'Neill is right when he says that turning down a lucrative international event for Croke Park on the basis that an All-Ireland semi-final might finish level makes no sense. For the record, three semi-finals from 40 games over the last 20 years finished level, prior to last Sunday.

Alternative

However, when Murphy's Law kicked in and a semi-final was drawn in the one year when Croke Park had a Saturday booking, the immediate response should have been to put the replay back by a week.

Instead, O'Neill talked of how great it will be for Limerick to host a semi-final. Indeed, but that still doesn't make it a right decision, especially when one of the counties is strongly opposed to the Gaelic Grounds and when a ready alternative is available.

No county can dictate where a game is to be played but Mayo's unhappiness at playing in a venue, which is far more familiar to their rivals, is understandable.

Other considerations come into play too. The All-Ireland semi-finals and finals belong to everybody and not just the competing counties. Croke Park is the best available venue to cater for people from all parts of the country, yet those from the northern half are being told that if they want to attend the Kerry-Mayo replay, they can get ready for a very long trip.

And what about the long-term Croke Park ticket-holders? As part of their deal, they would have expected semi-final replays to be in Croke Park, only to discover that it won't apply this time.

O'Neill said yesterday that irrespective of what decisions are made by the GAA, some people are always unhappy and predicted that once Saturday's game is over, playing it in the Gaelic Grounds will be seen as a good idea.

Really? The fact remains that while the GAA's best stadium is hosting an irrelevant American football game, one of the most important Gaelic football events of the year will be played at a ground which has less than one-seventh of the seating capacity of Croke Park. Whatever the background, that looks wrong.

O'Neill said that the GAA was regularly criticised for not playing more games outside Croke Park, yet still came under attack when they chose the Gaelic Grounds for the semi-final replay.

Much of the unease over Croke Park has centred on it becoming a home venue for Dublin for virtually all of their championship games.

With the Leinster Council continuing to play all Dublin's games in Croke Park, the only time the Blue Army might have to venture out of town is if they are forced into the qualifiers. Mind you, that doesn't always happen either. Happily for Dublin, their three qualifiers game in 2010 (the last time they didn't win the Leinster title) were fixed for Croke Park.

The perception among the majority of GAA people is that whatever the timing or the circumstances, there is no way that Dublin would be asked to play a semi-final replay away from Croke Park.

Okay, so Dublin travelled to Cork for the 1983 replay but those days are long past and they are now firmly anchored in Croke Park.

Their shadow even hung over the decision to play Kerry v Mayo in Croke Park on the basis that Croke Park might be needed on Saturday week for a Dublin-Donegal replay.

The GAA should pray that Saturday is a fine day because, if it's not, the contrast between Limerick, with most of the public on open terraces, and Croke Park, complete with its wide range of comforts for the American football, will make uncomfortable viewing.

An All-Ireland semi-final replay should always provide a major promotional boost for the GAA but, instead, they have allowed this one to whip up a controversy, which was easily avoidable. A seven-day delay would have solved it.

Irish Independent

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