Sport GAA

Sunday 21 October 2018

Martin Breheny: Logic calls for Galway venue rethink - why spend big on Sportsgrounds when you have Pearse Stadium?

Why spend on bigger Sportsground capacity when Pearse Stadium can hold 28,000?

Up in Salthill, Pearse Stadium has a capacity of around 28,000. So why have a 12,000-capacity ground less than three miles away? Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Up in Salthill, Pearse Stadium has a capacity of around 28,000. So why have a 12,000-capacity ground less than three miles away? Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If Ireland's attempt to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup been successful last year, important-looking types with clipboards and drawings would now be striding purposefully around Pearse Stadium, Galway, stopping off at various points to consult the plans.

Like several other GAA grounds, it was on the list of potential venues, without which there could have been no bid.

Just as they had opened up Croke Park while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped, the GAA were enthusiastic supporters of the IRFU's submission to world rugby chiefs.

Eleven months after Ireland lost out to France for the event, oval ball developments are back on the Galway agenda with the announcement this week of plans for a €30 million redevelopment of the Sportsground involving Connacht Rugby and the Irish Greyhound Board.

In addition to all the ancillary facilities that feature in redevelopments nowadays, the capacity of the ground will be increased by almost 50 per cent -going from 8,100 to 12,000.

Up in Salthill, Pearse Stadium has a capacity of around 28,000. So why have a 12,000-capacity ground less than three miles away?

Actually, there's no good reason. In fact, there's a compelling case for redeveloping the Sportsground on a much smaller scale and using it for Connacht's less attractive games while switching to Pearse Stadium for the bigger engagements.

That would greatly reduce the Sportsground's costs and also guarantee no capacity issues for even the most glamorous of Connacht's games.

Galway GAA benefits too since they would be paid rent any time Connacht felt that the Sportsground wasn't big enough for particular games.

It's win-win-win for the Exchequer (which will be asked to stump up much of the €30 million required for the larger redevelopment), Connacht Rugby (whose contribution would be less for a smaller stadium) and the GAA (who would earn rent money).

Daniel Flynn and Keith Cribben celebrate after Kildare’s victory over Mayo in Newbridge. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Daniel Flynn and Keith Cribben celebrate after Kildare’s victory over Mayo in Newbridge. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

As things stand, the GAA don't allow rugby or soccer into county grounds, but then the same applied to Croke Park prior to the momentous decision to lift the restriction in 2005.

Despite grim predictions of the end of the great old Association as we knew it if Croke Park were opened up, it all went rather well for the GAA, who netted €36 million in rent money while Lansdowne Road underwent redevelopment.

That money was redistributed to clubs and county boards around the country. How positive for the GAA was that?

Opening up Croke Park and providing several venues for the Rugby World Cup bid has ended the ideological case for keeping county grounds for GAA activities only.

7 October 2018; Referee Anthony Marron with Ballybay and Scotstown captains Paul Finlay and Darren Hughes prior to the Monaghan County Senior Club Football Championship Final. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile
7 October 2018; Referee Anthony Marron with Ballybay and Scotstown captains Paul Finlay and Darren Hughes prior to the Monaghan County Senior Club Football Championship Final. Photo: Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

That leaves the practical issues only, in particular whether county boards would come under severe local pressure to provide grounds for the most spurious reasons.

The solution is simply to vest such powers in Central Council, thereby taking it away from county boards.

If Central Council can be trusted to make the correct decisions about the use of Croke Park, they are unlikely to lose the run of themselves over county grounds.

The controversy over the use of Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the Liam Miller benefit game would never have erupted if Central Council were empowered to a make a decision.

Instead, a cold, hard rule was in place, which, at face value, tied the GAA's hands.

They were shamefully bullied by Government, Opposition and social media into temporarily putting it aside but would never have found themselves in that situation if policy on the use of all grounds was controlled by Central Council.

The lesson from that debacle was clear: a blanket ban is a bad idea.

If the GAA were prepared to do a deal with Connacht Rugby for occasional use (and really that's all it would be) of Pearse Stadium, it would dramatically alter the dynamic regarding the Sportsground, not least in saving the taxpayer a considerable amount of money.

It would also be a smart move for the GAA, providing Galway with an extra revenue stream, which is badly needed in such a large county.

In common with most other county grounds, Pearse Stadium rarely has its capacity tested. The historic clash of All-Ireland hurling champions, Galway and Allianz League champions Kilkenny attracted 18,775 last May, while a year earlier 23,046 watched Galway beat Mayo for a second successive year in the Connacht football championship.

If those games can't fill Pearse Stadium, it's hardly surprising that less attractive fixtures are played before large empty swathes of terracing.

Connacht rugby feels it's being squeezed at the Sportsground but there's more room than they will ever need across the city.

It seems like the right time for logic to prevail, with the GAA lifting the ban on the use of county grounds for high-demand events and Connacht rugby trimming their Sportsground sails and moving to Salthill for the bigger occasions.

Wouldn't that be a great way for the City of the Tribes to celebrate being European Capital of Culture in 2020?

No sign of the 'Newbridge or Nowhere' hype this time

Having failed to reach this year's Leinster semi-finals, Kildare will be in with Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Louth, Wicklow and Wexford in tomorrow night's draw for the 2019 provincial championships.

Dublin, Laois, Carlow and Longford will have byes to the quarter-finals.

On the basis of what has prevailed for a long time, we can take it that since Kildare have no home-and-away arrangements with other counties, their opening game will not be played in Newbridge.

Their last Leinster SFC game in St Conleth's Park was in 1995 when they lost a first round tie to Louth. There has been no outcry from Kildare over being the only county in the country that never gets to enjoy home advantage in the provincial championship.

That contrasts starkly with their defiant 'Newbridge or Nowhere' stance for this year's qualifier clash with Mayo. Isn't that all rather curious?

Despite St Conleth's Park being big enough to host some Leinster games, Kildare happily traipse around the province year after year, yet they threatened to delay the All-Ireland series unless they were allowed to host a game which would have attracted at least twice the capacity of Newbridge.

Is there a whiff double standards in the air?

What's most embarrassing?

Monaghan's Darren Hughes admits that he hasn't fully read all of football's proposed rule changes but he's against most of them anyway.

"I read the first couple of lines about the kick-out and everybody having to stay outside the 45-metre lines but I don't understand it at all," Hughes said.

And then there's the embarrassment he's feeling on behalf of those who drafted them.

"It's embarrassing for some of the rules committee that some of them went to print. There's no logic to it at all. I don't know if they even played the game. It's embarrassing to even read it," he said.

Embarrassment all round then, according to Darren. Has he watched much football lately? Now there's where the real embarrassment rests.

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