Croke Park chaos as Kildare state they won't play at Headquarters
DOUBT was cast on Saturday's Championship double-header last night as Kildare insisted they will not fulfil their Qualifier fixture with Mayo if they are not allowed to play it in Newbridge.
The Lilywhites were initially awarded a home tie against Mayo in yesterday morning's All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round three draw. However, the GAA's Central Competitions Control Committee (CCCC) asked Kildare to nominate an alternative venue to St Conleth's Park and, when they refused to do so, Headquarters moved the game to Croke Park on health and safety grounds.
The other game set for Croke Park on Saturday is the all-Ulster meeting of Cavan and Tyrone. Although Cavan were first out of the hat, Breffni Park is currently having a new pitch laid and the county board confirmed last night they were happy to go with the GAA's suggestion of a Croke Park double-header as opposed to their nominated alternative of Brewster Park. Both games are scheduled to be shown live on Sky Sports.
Among the reasons cited by the CCCC for the enforced change of venue was the restriction on capacity in Newbridge and the clash with Saturday's Irish Derby at the Curragh.
Speaking to The Irish Times yesterday afternoon, the GAA's director of games administration Feargal McGill issued an unequivocal message on behalf of the association: “The game has been fixed for 7pm in Croke Park and that is not going to change under any circumstances,” he said.
McGill added he sympathised with Kildare and that, had they been drawn to play anyone else but Mayo, it is likely the game would have been allowed to go ahead at Newbridge. However, with Mayo fans making up the majority of the 11,000 plus attendance at Semple Stadium last weekend and the GAA anticipating an 18-20,000 overall figure for this fixture, St Conleth's Park's all-ticket capacity of just over 8,000 was deemed dangerously inadequate.
“We fully appreciate where Kildare are coming from. We don't take home venue off of a team lightly,” McGill said.
“However, health and safety has to come first. It's that simple. The last thing we wanted to do was take this out of Newbridge, but we simply had no choice. There is no room for manoeuvre, not when it comes to health and safety. If Kildare don't show up in Croke Park on Saturday at 7pm, the game will be awarded to Mayo.”
If the GAA were hoping their firm message would put the matter to bed, the equally tough talk emerging from Kildare last night will have left Headquarters dismayed.
“We are making it clear that we will not play this game in Croke Park,” a statement from the Lilywhites' county management committee insisted.
“St Conleth's Park is perfectly capable of hosting the tie on an all-ticket basis, Newbridge is perfectly capable of dealing with the number of supporters that will attend.”
Kildare manager Cian O'Neill backed that position to the hilt: "We were drawn fairly and squarely, we were pulled out first,” he said.
"The rules clearly state that the first team drawn out has a home venue... and that's exactly where we're going to be on Saturday night. We'll be in St Conleth's Park, togged out, ready to go.
"That's our home venue. We earned it by winning the last two matches on the road and that's not going to be taken away from us," O'Neill added.
The Gaelic Players' Association have also voiced their support for Kildare in a move that indicates their stance will receive a hearing well beyond Newbridge.
“It is unclear why the GAA is not sticking to its original decision that the first team drawn would have home advantage,” a GPA statement read.
“The GAA decision to move this game from its original venue of St Conleth's Park to Croke Park is unacceptable. Not alone is it unfair to the Kildare team, but it is also unfair on the Mayo football panel, who are now expected to make alternative travel arrangements having understood that the game was fixed for Newbridge.”
Spokesmen for both Cavan and Tyrone said last night that they fully expected their Qualifier to go ahead on Saturday, regardless of whether or not Kildare show up first to fulfil their fixture.
All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round three
All ties to be played Saturday, June 30
Leitrim v Monaghan (Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick On Shannon, 2.30pm); Armagh v Clare (Athletic Grounds, Armagh, 3pm); Cavan v Tyrone (Croke Park, 5pm); Kildare v Mayo (Croke Park 7pm)