'This is a football competition not a financial report' - Cian O'Neill remains resolute on 'Newbridge or nowhere' stance
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill and his squad are not backing down on their refusal to play Mayo in Croke Park this Saturday
County board chiefs insist that, having earned home advantage in yesterday’s draw, their SFC qualifier must go ahead in Newbridge - or nowhere.
And, in that, they are “on the same page” as Lilywhite boss Cian O’Neill, who described the CCCC’s decision to fix the game for Croker as “bewildering”.
But Kildare’s insistence that they won’t fulfil the fixture unless it reverts to St Conleth’s Park places them on a direct collision course with GAA top-brass.
Croke Park has made it clear there won’t be any U-turn on moving the game from Newbridge on health and safety grounds - because of the venue’s 9,020 capacity and the expectation that up to 20,000 fans would want to attend this eagerly awaited Round 3 qualifier.
But if Kildare don’t show at HQ next Saturday at 7pm, they risk expulsion according to Fergal McGill, the GAA’s director of games administration.
Speaking on KFM today, O'Neill reiterated his stance that Kildare will not be playing that game outside their home venue.
"I think we need to hold firm on this and be strong on our resolve. I don’t want this to be viewed as a threat or the term collision course is being used. That’s not how we’re viewing this. All we want is due process to take place for our players," he said.
"If you have a stadium with a capacity of ours, you offer an all-ticket game, accommodate all season ticket holders, and then a public sale for the remainder. Then we go and play football. I know that means that some people that want to go may not get a ticket. But that is same for Taylor Swift in Croke Park, a Leinster final, an All-Ireland football final.
"Everyone cannot go to every match. We earned the right by beating Derry in Derry, Longford in Longford, [being drawn at home]. So how can it be health and safety? It’s a convenient untruth. They want to take [our home advantage] because it’s a convenience for them. We’re not having that."
Asked about the possibility of playing the game in Portlaoise and Tullamore, he added: "Why would a team that has home venue for a round 3 qualifier against the second or third seeded team in the country opt to play a game somewhere other than their home ground when they've rightfully been awarded it.
"It makes no sense. Why are we being asked to compromise here?
"The players are the ones who have fought tooth and nail to get back into this competition after a really disappointing performance in Tullamore against Carlow and now we're back on track and they're asking us to compromise on a different level.
"I think the big question here always has to start with, 'Why?'. Why is this happening? I haven't heard any logical or rational reason from Croke Park as to why this is happening.
"If they are saying it is to accommodate more supporters well then that's a financial reason. We're here to play football. We're not here to look at the finances of the GAA.
"Unless there is any other reason why St Conleth's Park is not suitable it shouldn't be entertained. This is a football competition not a financial report we're trying to produce here."
Asked if he could countenance the game going ahead anywhere else other than Newbridge, he said: "No, absolutely not. It's Newbridge or nowhere.
"I would like to think that common sense, logic and fairness and fair play will prevail here from the GAA's perspective and realise that we all make mistakes, God knows I make mistakes on the sideline, but they've made a huge mistake here and it's not just about Kildare and Kildare versus Mayo, this is an issue that really affects the fabric of the GAA as an organisation and if they don't see the error that's been made here and change their stance on this, I think there will be long-lasting implications for the organisation as a whole if they think they can treat players like this."
O'Neill revealed that the Kildare players were unanimous in their backing of the county board and their manager over the strong line they have taken.
"What we have tried to do is separate the players from all of this.
"The one thing we had to do and do quickly is gauge the opinion of the players yesterday. Eoin Doyle, our captain, did that. I couldn't make a decision on behalf of the players unless I knew that the players had full buy in.
"To a man, every single player agreed that this is not right. It's not on. Newbridge or nowhere.
"The players are 100pc behind it but that is the extent of their involvement.
"We are back in the pitch tonight, we're training tonight and we just want to stay focused right up to 7pm on Saturday evening."
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