No treaty over Limerick replay call as GAA hold firm
Anger still palpable over venue choice as president defends decision
If the GAA wants to gauge the reaction to the decision to stage the All-Ireland semi-final between Mayo and Kerry at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick on Saturday evening next then it should look no further than John O'Mahony as a barometer.
As a football manager, O'Mahony was always methodical and considered. Any work spoken was given thought and was delivered it with calmness. There was no sense of drama attached.
His subsequent life as a politician hasn't deviated from those characteristics.
When the GAA signed over the rights to a subscription channel last April to exclusively broadcast championship matches for the first time, the state's legislators demanded answers and hauled in the key officials to explain their case at a subsequent Oireachtas transport and communications committee meeting.
As chairman of that committee, O'Mahony was the benign face that greeted those officials who might have been expecting a rougher ride.
O'Mahony chaired the meeting diplomatically and was able to see meaning in the explanations given.
But on the decision to send the first semi-final replay in a decade out of Croke Park, he just couldn't see sense yesterday. "I think it is one of the worst decisions made in a long time," said a "flabbergasted" O'Mahony.
"I can understand that contracts are signed to host an American Football game and that is fine. But to come out and say that the replay can't be played on Saturday week is just incredible. This can't be defended at any level in my opinion and I'm saying that, not from a political point of view, but from the viewpoint of someone who has defended the GAA plenty of times in the past."
O'Mahony fears chaos on the approach roads from Mayo to Limerick and recalled the experience of Roscommon supporters who abandoned cars on the way to Ennis and watched the 2006 All-Ireland minor final replay against Kerry in pubs instead because of the gridlock.
"The roads have improved, I accept that, but if you take places like Claregalway and Tuam into consideration it is potentially chaotic," said O'Mahony.
It's one thing for some of the regular voices to cry foul at such decisions taken at central level but when someone like O'Mahony categorically calls it a bad decision, people take notice.
The decision to embrace Sky may have split opinion but this appears to be all one way. Maybe Kerry supporters based further from Dublin will appreciate the shorter drive but the idea of transporting an All-Ireland semi-final out of Croke Park has not been supported elsewhere.
Recent Central Competition Control Committees have been keen to push out the parameters on where and when fixtures are made, the desire to have Friday night games being a case in point.
Shifting a game of this magnitude to a provincial venue falls loosely into line with that thinking on the premise that there are large stadia sitting idle for so much of the year in key geographical areas and they too deserve their 'day in the sun'.
But because of adverse reaction over Laois and Carlow going ahead on a Friday night in June 2013, GAA director-general Paraic Duffy stressed, in his most recent annual report, that the experiment was at an end. Ironically, it has worked quite well with attendances doubling on the corresponding game previous year.
Already the reaction to shifting a semi-final replay out of headquarters looks like bringing this experiment to a quick conclusion too.
As to whether the doors of Croke Park should be closed to other events during the months of June, July, August and September - the busiest stretch of the season - is another fundamental question.
Of course the GAA should continue to explore new revenue streams for Croke Park and staging an American Football colleges match fits nicely with the profile.
Some of those crying foul over Saturday's game taking place at the expense of a semi-final replay and calling for a less commercialised GAA fail to grasp the reality that the association is consistently entrenched in a battle to win hearts and minds at youth level and needs the fortification of as much revenue as possible to succeed.
Thus, maximising one of its greatest assets where possible remains of paramount importance.
If there is a few hundred thousand or so to be pocketed from two college teams willing to kick off their season here then every effort should be made to accommodate it.
The crux is not so much the unavailability of Croke Park to stage the replay this Saturday as the reluctance to stage it on Saturday week. Is the risk of a second replay or a replay in the Dublin/Donegal game that great?
Speaking at the launch of Comortas na nGael in Croke Park yesterday, GAA president Liam O'Neill, who wasn't part of the decision-making process, said the potential for further semi-final replays dictated that the Mayo/Kerry replay had to go ahead this weekend.
"The American football game was officially announced over 18 months,"he said.
"You just can't run a stadium like this and block out every possible replay date as a date when you stage activities like this.
"Like many of the other games we have held here over the years since the stadium was opened, it's a huge opportunity to showcase our stadium, it's of huge benefit to the economy of the Dublin region and to have refused this game for the possibility of that a semi-final might end in a draw would not have been right," he said.
"We have had very few draws in All-Ireland semi-finals," he added.
"Some people are not happy, some people are very pleased. You get that in every single thing that we make. You will have a small minority who are against and the middle people accept the decision because they know that they are made in the best interests."
What were alternatives to Limerick's Gaelic Grounds?
The Central Competition Controls Committee is not in the business of creating uncertainty around fixtures. But they could still have pitched for Saturday week in Croke Park in the hope that Dublin and Donegal doesn't end in a draw. If there were two replays required, would it not have been possible to reschedule Mayo/Kerry for the Gaelic Grounds earlier in the afternoon with Dublin and Donegal remaining in Croke Park on the basis that it is catering for the bigger attendance. But two big matches on the eve of an All-Ireland hurling final would not be ideal for the GAA either.
An option that was considered by the CCCC. The advantages are that Thurles would not have the Saturday afternoon traffic of a city like Limerick to compound problems and that there is a greater amount of covered seats than Limerick's 9,400. The disadvantage of the Co Tipperary venue is location. It's further away from all points of Kerry and especially Mayo and is not served by the same quality of roads from either starting point.
In the event of two replays being required, would it not have been feasible to play both as a Croke Park double-header on Saturday week?
For sure there would be capacity issues and the GAA's basic premise that the greatest possible number of people who want to see the games would be challenged.
How Twitter reacted
Steven McDonnell (Armagh) - American football takes the place of our own games in Croke Park next Saturday because of the draw. Replay is in Limerick.
Philip Jordan (Tyrone) - Quit crying about the replay being in Limerick. We're lucky to have another great game to look forward to. Couldn't care less where it is
Tomas Quinn (Dublin) - So replay is in Limerick, should do it in Croker on Sat week. Better for both teams, little things like Hawkeye etc. Too much at stake #GAA
Conleith Gilligan (Derry) - If Dublin drew their semi final, would the replay ever be played in Limerick #coursenot
Eoin Liston (Kerry) - Fantastic game and great to have another chance #greatcredittobothteams
Joe Brolly (Derry) - All Ireland final will be played in Croke Park this year if MacDonalds don't need it for a Ronald Fun Day
Matt Cooper (Broadcaster) - Replay should be next Saturday week in Croke park not next Saturday in Limerick.
Paul Hearty (Armagh) - No @CrokePark for replay, pity but a full house in Limerick will be a great atmosphere #finespot #gaa #semifinal
Weeshie Fogarty (Broadcaster) - As Laurel and Hardy said "Another fine mess you got us into". Garret Brooks first, now Limerick for the replay, disgraceful.
Colm Parkinson (Broadcaster) - No Hawkeye down in Limerick either, vital today
Seanie Buckley (Limerick) - That is outstanding news.. All ireland senior football final semi final in the Gaelic grounds.. #overthemoon
Jarlath Burns (Armagh) - Replay can't be played day before hurling. Handball finals on. Limerick will be a fantastic venue for replay.
Pa Ranahan (Limerick) - All Ireland Senior Football semi literally over the road. Hope Limerick embraces it. Once in a lifetime stuff. Let the scramble begin! #GAA