Croke Park may not be opened for Division 3 and 4 league finals
CROKE Park may not be opened for the NFL Division Three and Four finals this year after they were split up because of the fixture changes forced by last weekend's cold weather.
The deciders were due to be played on March 31 as a double-header but London's involvement in Division Four has meant a series of alterations to the schedule, which includes now pushing the final back to the weekend of April 7/8.
A spokesperson for the GAA said that no decisions had yet been made on venues but did rule out the possibility of the Division Three final being played as the first game of an April 1 triple-header alongside the Division One and Two deciders.
That means the finals in both Divisions Three and Four will be standalone fixtures.
The Division One and Two finals moved permanently to Croke Park in 2009, with the Division Three and Four deciders moving to the Jones' Road venue since the following year.
None have been played outside Croke Park since then but last year's Saturday double-header of Tipperary v Louth and Westmeath v Wexford attracted just 5,823 spectators.
How that small attendance would look on live TV, as well as the financial cost of opening Croke Park for such a potential crowd, may be factors in CCCC's choice of venue.
The Division Four final is set to be played on the same day as the Division One hurling final, which is traditionally held in Munster.
In moving the Division Four final back a week, CCCC has already broken the GAA's pledge of having no club action in the month of April.
The cost of Laois having to cancel and rebook flights to London for their game in Ruislip this weekend meant the fixtures body had to find an alternative to how it dealt with the cancellations in the other three divisions.
Antrim's game with Laois, which was due to be played last weekend, will now take place on the weekend of March 31 along with London v Leitrim.
The only solutions available to CCCC were to either force Antrim to travel to Portlaoise midweek, which Saffron county chairman Collie Donnelly described as “a big ask”, or to push the end of the Division Four campaign back.
The move that will raise eyebrows so soon after the GAA sold the idea of no inter-county games during the whole month of April in a bid to appease the frustration over club fixtures.
New CCCC chairman Ned Quinn just last week guaranteed to The Times that no county games would be played after April 1, which is the date for the Division One and Two finals.
Earlier this year, in his final annual report as Ard Stiurthoir before he retires at the end of this month, Páraic Duffy said of the move: “Ring-fencing the month of April for club fixtures is crucial in allowing counties to make a good start to their club programme for the year.”
Laois had designated their county players to be available for the entire programme of club football fixtures in April, and had planned for a full round on the weekend of April 7/8.
Those fixtures will now either have to be changed or else go ahead without inter-county players available to their clubs.
The club fixtures in Antrim and Carlow, the other two counties who could potentially be affected, are not yet publicly available.
Antrim goalkeeper Chris Kerr made his feelings known on Twitter, saying: “Whoever got paid to come up with this fixture change needs slapped repeatedly with a wet fish.”