Sunday 24 February 2019

Kildare the only winners in a row that should have been avoided

Kildare manager Cian O’Neill
Kildare manager Cian O’Neill

Somewhere today surely, Derek McGrath tilted his head back and took one more laugh at the gods of fate that mocked him this year.

Of all the many and varied cruel strokes of luck that befell Waterford's eminently likeable, now former manager, the concession of home advantage for the two Munster SHC games against Tipperary and Cork was surely the killer.

McGrath was on the record as being strongly against the surrendering of that advantage but in the end, the call was taken out of his hands, jointly, by the decision-makers in Munster Counil and his own county board. The reason furnished was the unsuitability of poor old, decrepit Walsh Park for games with big crowds antipated.

That was the same rationale employed by Leinster Council when they sent Wicklow and Dublin to O'Moore Park to play their Leinster SFC quarter-final rather than stage it in Aughrim and again by the CCCC when they fixed Kildare v Mayo for Croke Park last Monday morning.

The difference, ultimately, being that the other two bodies had time on their side to smooth the passage of those Munster SHC matches from Waterford city to Limerick and Thurles.

Stephen Rochford
Stephen Rochford


Or in Leinster Council's case, a pre-emptive designation of just three grounds; O'Moore Park, O'Connor Park and Nowlan Park, for the purposes of hosting a fixture involving the Dublin footballers outside of Croke Park.

A simple asterisks with the sentence 'home venues are subject to capacity at the CCCC's discretion' may not have avoided the cries of unfairness in this case but it would surely have taken the nuclear option away from Kildare.

Because once they had a cause and a legitimate gripe, it was difficult to envisage Kildare backing down, particularly after the body of public opinion swayed so powerfully in their direction.

When Cian O'Neill said on the Six One News: "We were shocked when met with the decision," it's easy to imagine his county's GAA followers adopting a similarly enraged position.

Whether O'Neill was legitimately shocked is irrelevant now.

Kildare have had issues over St Conleth's Park in the recent past and plan to revamp it from its current state to a modern ground with a 15,000 capacity by 2020 at a cost of €7.5m.

And the Kildare public had all but given up on this team after they went down so poorly to Carlow in Tullamore a month ago.

Yet the whole thing could prove a master stroke, both in the reunion of a team with its people and with a view to Kildare pulling off their biggest championship victory in more than a decade.

Kildare have won just one of their past 11 games in Croke Park, that being a 0-9 to 0-8 victory over Wexford in the first round of Leinster in 2016. Mayo's misery there is confined to All-Ireland finals only and it's not hard to surmise that the staging of this game in Croke Park was effectively a death sentence for Kildare's year.

The statement that came through yesterday from Mayo was naturally brief yet pointed.

"The Mayo team and management have this week been preparing to play Kildare on Saturday," it read, making no mentioned of whether the team had been discommoded by all the ructions, "and look forward to having a passionate Mayo support in Newbridge on Saturday evening."

With just 1,500 tickets awarded to each county for distribution to their clubs, it is expected that the support for Stephen Rochford's men - with its extra 2,500 season tickets - will dwarf that of Kildare.

The GAA meanwhile, are left to figure out how they were forced into such a steep descent.

"The game has been fixed for 7pm in Croke Park, and that is not going to change under any circumstances," Feargal McGill, the GAA's director of games administration, said on Monday.

The only enlightening part of their statement yesterday confirming the fixture had been switched to Newbridge was that "upgraded match-day and traffic management plans involving extra stewarding and Gardaí will be put in place to cater for the large crowds expected at the venue before the game."

Croke Park have had to swallow hard yet their concerns over health and safety and ticketing were legitimate. They have, however, at least avoided the farcical situation whereby a team is awarded a match in the All-Ireland SFC without kicking a ball.

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