Friday 13 December 2019

Quitting Croker 25 years ago may have been wise move for the GAA

The redevelopment of Croke Park required the acquisition of a considerable amount of adjoining land, but the use of the stadium is still restricted by its location as Garth Brooks has learned this week. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
The redevelopment of Croke Park required the acquisition of a considerable amount of adjoining land, but the use of the stadium is still restricted by its location as Garth Brooks has learned this week. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

On October 15, 1989, the now defunct 'Sunday Press' ran a big story under the banner headline: GAA MAY QUIT CROKE PARK.

It arose from an interview I did with Liam Mulvihill, the then GAA director-general. In the 29 years Mulvihill spent as DG, he was always extremely measured in his comments. He was also loyal, although not slavishly so, to the tradition and ethos of the GAA.

Since Croke Park was so embedded in the GAA's psyche, I recall thinking that he was having me on when suggesting that moving out might be a good idea. But no, he was putting it on the record.

There was an important context to his comments. Croke Park needed to be redeveloped, but to facilitate the grand design, a considerable amount of adjoining land was required. That was driving up the price and as negotiations dragged on at a tortuously slow pace, the GAA became frustrated.


I don't know whether Mulvihill was really serious about leaving Croke Park, but his comments certainly concentrated minds. After all, the GAA was more likely to pay top dollar for land they so badly needed to redevelop Croke Park than other property buyers who could shop anywhere.

Mulvihill explained that the time had come for facing tough choices.

"If we cannot acquire it (the adjoining land), then we will have to seriously consider moving elsewhere. Obviously, we all have sentimental ties with Croke Park but we have to modernise it and if that means moving, so be it. I am hoping that it will never come to that but it would be unwise not to consider it as an option. Changing times bring changing demands and we must respond," he said.

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It was a master negotiating stroke by Mulvihill. The GAA eventually got the land it required and by September 1993, the bulldozers were demolishing the Cusack Stand.

I've been thinking about Mulvihill's comment since the Garth Brooks' concert fiasco emerged and you know what? Maybe, the GAA should have sold Croke Park all those years ago and built a new stadium on a green field site.

That way, they could use it whenever they liked, without facing interminable rows with local residents or – more accurately – a section of local residents. Mind you, what constitutes local is comical in the case of Croke Park, since it appears you qualify even if you live as far away as Castleknock. Surely, if your address isn't within a mile of Croke Park, you should have no say in what goes on there.

The difference of opinion between residents was highlighted by the march in Ballybough on Sunday when those in favour of the Brooks concerts came out in force. Why then does the opinion of the persistent agitators weigh more heavily than those who like the idea of Croke Park as a positive presence in the area?

Kieran Mulvey, the Labour Relations chief, who has mediated successfully in dozens of seemingly intractable disputes over the years, expressed concern over the number of groups representing residents around Croke Park. How can a lasting solution ever be found unless there is one umbrella group?

He was also critical of the decision to proceed with five concerts on successive nights and recommended that it should never happen again. However, the central issue unresolved remained that 400,000 people had purchased tickets.

Not our problem, say some of the residents and indeed Dublin City Council. Now, ordinary people, who apply a normal level of logic to their lives, can't figure out why the City Council didn't wag a warning finger publicly when it was announced in early February that five concerts had been sold out. "Not so fast, there's a problem here," would have sufficed.

After all, if a planning department were informed that a builder had started work on a housing estate without permission, would it wait until the last door had been painted before intervening? Or would it dash down to the site office straight away and ask: "what's all this about?"

Instead, 400,000 people assumed there was no issue until quite recently. Now, there's a problem for them, the GAA, the Dublin economy, airlines, train and bus companies, assorted others, plus Garth Brooks, of course. And that's before you consider the damage to the country's image.

Now that the anti-brigade around Croke Park have been seen to get their way, is it a foretaste of things to come? Will there ever be peace between the GAA and some resident groups? Will there be more strife, injunctions and embarrassment?

Maybe, the GAA would indeed have been better off if they high-tailed it out of Dublin 3 in the early 1990s.


Is there no end to burnout madness?

Last week, we reported on how Kildare clubs Sarsfields and Moorefield had withdrawn their players from the Kildare U-16 panel because they were expected to play for the county team on Wednesday evening and their clubs on Friday over two successive weeks.

"We keep hearing about burnout and the pressure on young players especially, yet this sort of thing continues to happen," said former Kildare star Sos Dowling, who coaches Moorefield U-16s.

Try this from Brendan Harpur, former Tyrone Coaching Officer, in his resignation letter last week.

"My experience over the last three years is of fixtures being made with no consideration for the demand placed on youth players that puts them at risk of injury."

On Monday, Diarmuid Devereux, Wexford County Chairman, commented on the schedule which hands some Wexford players two senior games with Clare and a Leinster U-21 final with Dublin in a week.

"Do you think it's reasonable for your 19-year-old son to be exposed to five hours' competitive hurling in seven days?" said Devereux. Is there to be no end to the burnout madness?


Rebels represent value for Sam

Cork footballers drifted from 7/1 to 20/1 for the All-Ireland title after losing heavily to Kerry last Sunday. Is there any way back for them this year? Well, there was certainly a way back for Tipperary hurlers after losing by 10 points to Cork in the 2010 Munster championship and for Kilkenny hurlers, who lost the 2012 Leinster final to Galway by 10 points.

Dublin footballers were unlucky to lose the 2010 All-Ireland semi-final to eventual champions Cork, after losing by 11 points to Meath in the Leinster semi-final. And didn't Kerry win the 2009 All-Ireland final after losing the Munster semi-final replay to Cork by eight points? What's more, they beat Cork in the All-Ireland final.

Don't dismiss Cork just yet.

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