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Hurling in a rage <br>over long grass cock-up

THE GAA has admitted that the grass was too long for Sunday's All-Ireland hurling finals, while Cork manager John Allen has claimed that what the players had to endure would not be tolerated at club grounds.

"The grass was way too high," insisted the Cork manager. "If you walked into any club pitch and saw grass like that, you'd be complaining straight away.

"It completely ruled out ground hurling. The truth is the pitch does not match up to the rest of what is a fantastic stadium and is turning games into a lottery," he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Independent has learned that an under-soil heating system is to be installed in Croke Park this winter so as to encourage earlier growth next spring which it's hoped will lead to a better surface later in the year.

Allen stressed that he was in no way using the pitch as an excuse for Cork's defeat, pointing out that conditions were precisely the same for Kilkenny.

"It was unfair on both sets of players - I want to make that clear. My complaints about the pitch are made in a general sense and the simple truth is that the grass was too long," said Allen.

Peter McKenna, the Stadium Director, disputed Allen's claim that the grass was "way too high", but accepted that it should have been cut a little shorter.

He said it was decided to leave it slightly longer than usual so as to improve the grip and also because the weather forecast had been for more rain. Work has been carried out on the pitch in recent weeks which, according to McKenna, has reduced the surface hardness by more than 30 per cent.

He claimed that incidents of players slipping in unexplained circumstances were down last Sunday. However, a new problem arose in the form of unusually high grass.

Allen said this was the cause of much of the inconclusive skirmishes that forced referee Barry Kelly to throw in the ball far more often than usual.

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Said Allen: "Granted, the game was very tight and there was a lot of closing down, but the ball tended to hold in the grass which definitely accounted for many of the throw-ins. We told our players in advance to be aware of how the long grass would impact on the game.

"The backs had to make sure to shepherd the ball wide because there was always a danger it would hold in the grass, while forwards were told to chase it down at the other end. It was the same for both teams, but you shouldn't have something like long grass bothering you on All-Ireland final day."

Experts

Nickey Brennan, the GAA President, admitted that they still hadn't got the pitch fully right. They are using the top available experts in pitch maintenance and would continue to take whatever steps were necessary to get it right.

"The truth is that we play more games in Croke Park in a short space of time than other similar surfaces would have to endure anywhere else. We have had five or six games over two days on some weekends and obviously that takes its toll. Having said that, we have to take on board what players are telling us. I didn't think that slipping was a major problem on Sunday, but obviously there was unease over the length of the grass, which was unfortunate," he said.

Allen said that players had tried various boots in recent years in an effort to improve the grip, but none seemed to work satisfactorily.

"We even had special studs fitted, but they didn't work out to our satisfaction either. We have a great stadium in Croke Park, but the pitch still isn't right," he said.

Included in the next phase of development work on the pitch is the installation of under-soil heating, probably after the second Ireland v Australia International Rules test on November 5. Provision for an under-soil system was made when the pitch was laid in 2002, so it will be relatively easy to install it.

The heating system will enable the ground staff to keep the soil temperature higher than normal during the winter so growth will start earlier in spring. It's hoped this will lead to a better surface later on.

McKenna said that the large number of games played in Croke Park in July-August, combined with regular invasions by fans, increased the pressure on the pitch but he remains adamant that it's the correct surface.

"If you want to play as many games as we do, this is the right pitch. A traditional soil pitch won't work in stadium of this size where sunlight and air movement is restricted," he said.

"I have no doubt that the surface was less slippy last Sunday than it had been, but on balance we should have cut the grass a little bit shorter," he admitted.


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