Friday 20 April 2018

Planning behind move away from Croke Park is Ireland at its idiotic worst

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

WITH a 5.0 start, sundown will coincide with the final whistle at Croke Park this evening.

How very appropriate as it will signal more than the end of a game and a season. It's also the end of an era, albeit a relatively short one, which altered the course of Irish sporting history.

For four seasons, Croke Park hosted international rugby and soccer in a win-win deal for everybody. It not only saved the country the embarrassment of playing 'home' fixtures in Britain but was also profitable for the GAA, IRFU and FAI.

Now, it's a case of 'thanks for the use of the hall' as the IRFU and FAI head back to Lansdowne Road and a stadium with a much lower capacity than Croke Park. In strategic planning terms, it's Ireland at its idiotic worst, an affront to logic and an insult to the Irish public.

From next autumn, 32,300 people who had grown accustomed to attending rugby and soccer internationals will be told they don't count anymore. Meanwhile, we will be expected to call Lansdowne Road the Aviva Stadium. In return, our insurance premiums will probably increase as the sponsors seek to recoup their naming-rights investment.

As for the GAA, this is a black day for the Association as it sees the closure of what has been a generous ATM. Rugby and soccer has contributed €36m to GAA funds since February 2007. That's €222,222 for each and every one of the 162 weeks Croke Park has been open for non-GAA business.

Where's that sort of money to come from now? It can't be replaced and, while the GAA didn't allow it into day-to-day spending, it means an end to the many special projects that were being funded by rugby and soccer.

It was comforting for the GAA to know that Croke Park's international commitments were contributing around €9m per year -- all the more so in the depths of a recession which has cut back on all income streams.

Maintenance and repair work on Croke Park will be costly into the future but it's money that will have to be found from sources other than international fixtures.

As with all extra income, it's only when it dries up that the loss becomes apparent. The GAA can claim that because of its temporary nature the rent money was ring-fenced so that they wouldn't become dependent on it. Fine, but they will still be about €900,000 per month worse off from 2011 onwards. That's quite a hit in these difficult times.

Of course it might have all been so different if the GAA had opened Croke Park earlier. Instead, they delayed a decision until 2005, encouraged, it must be said, by government policy which supported the 'Bertie Bowl' idea in the face of all apparent common sense. If Croke Park had been opened up in 2001 (a few extra votes would have been enough to scrap Rule 42), the folly of redeveloping a 50,000-capacity stadium a few miles away would have become apparent.

The obvious solution was to build a smaller Lansdowne Road and play all the big international games at Croke Park. It would have saved money for the IRFU, FAI and the taxpayer, generated extra revenue for all sides, including the GAA, and made rugby and soccer games available to 32,300 extra people.

Sadly, integrated thinking didn't apply at any level and we're now left with the worst of all worlds once the party ends at Croke Park tonight.

Irish Independent

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