Croke Park director Peter McKenna has robustly defended the stadium’s decision-making on the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano World championship fight which is now set for the 3Arena.
Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn blamed the cost of hiring the stadium for the decision to move the May 20 showdown to the 9,000 capacity indoor venue.
McKenna said Croke Park had lowered their charges to facilitate the fight. He suggested the reluctance of Matchroom to pick up the hefty security bill had effectively scuppered the project.
“The costs quoted are far less than we’d normally charge because we would have loved to have had Katie Taylor. The eyes of the world would be on us,” he said.
“We’re never shy in bringing world class events like the Special Olympics here. What you have to though is bear in mind the Euro 22 scenario,” said McKenna who was speaking in Croke Park at the presentation of the GAA’s annual accounts.
McKenna repeatedly made reference to the chaos which ensued at Wembley before and during the European Championship final between England and Italy in 2021.
“There is an issue here with security and if you look at what happened in 2020 in Wembley at the Euros, there was carnage there and a public inquiry, Baroness Casey - and I’m a nerd, I read these things in detail - was scathing on the lack of stewards, the police didn’t deploy until too late,” he said.
“Police don’t deploy for Croke Park or the Aviva or anywhere else - they’re actually here. You’re not waiting for them to arrive.
“So we, and I think everyone in the event industry based in Ireland, would pride ourselves on the fact that we run very, very safe events and if that costs then that’s a cost that we have to do.
“The eyes of the world are on us for these type of events and we’re not going to change our position on that,” he said.
He rebutted claims by Eddie Hearn that the total cost of hiring Croke Park would be three times higher than Wembley Stadium.
“We would love to have the fight here and we set our stall out on that basis. So our rent was coming in around €400,000. I think the rent for Wembley is about Stg£250,000/300,000. We are not colossally more expensive than Wembley,” he said.
“The real issue here is about security costs which we felt the promoter should carry.
"Having gone through this with statutory services and our own team, we looked at the risk analysis on the event and we felt that the amount of security that you’d need would be at the top level and that is not inexpensive.
“So I think maybe there’s a worry there they wouldn’t quite get the attendance and also the costs associated with hosting an event at a certain standard that we would be very proud that we would hold to has caused a little bit of jitters.”
He refused to be drawn on suggestions that Matchroom were willing to pay the figure Croke Park wanted for rent but baulked when presented with an additional list of operational expenses.
“Without getting into a tennis match, that’s not the recollection. We said very clearly and all of my correspondence with the Matchroom team and their team in Ireland represented by Brian Peters is in writing, not on the phone,” McKenna said.
"So, I know exactly what was said and how it was communicated, not by phone, so there was no surprise in what the cost would be,” he insisted.
He pointed out there would be extra challenges for the Gardai and other services on May 20 as the European Champions’ Cup final is scheduled for the Aviva Stadium that day.
He denied that Croke Park was reluctant to host the fight because of concerns over the Kinahan-Hutch gangland feud.
“That would be a very small part of the concern. You’re talking about bringing 60-,70,000 people into a stadium for a fight that’s late in the evening with quite a bit of alcohol taken,” he said.
They’re the things you should think about not the fact that it’s in Ballybough. People in Ballybough are fantastic and 400,000 people came for Garth Brooks and there were no issues.
“The point we’re getting across is how the event is tagged – not the particular event itself,” he said.
"All of these risks have to be factored in: what time is it on, what’s the crowd profile, what’s the amount of alcohol that’s been taken.
"And all of those give you the criteria you work out before sitting down with the Gardaí and getting their views. It’s not something we just do in isolation,” he said.
The stadium director didn’t rule out the possibility of Croke Park hosting a Katie Taylor fight in the future and he defended the government’s stance on the issue.
“I think they were very, very supportive but they needed something on paper, something that said, ‘Listen, this is what we want, and this is why we want it’ and it really wasn’t forthcoming to be honest,” he added.