herald

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Lilywhites go to war

Hard line stance adopted by both the Lilies and GAA means someone must back down

Venting his frustration: Kildare manager Cian O’Neill
Venting his frustration: Kildare manager Cian O’Neill
Flying Flynn: Kildare’s Neil Flynn in action during last Saturday night’s All-Ireland SFC Qualifer Round 2 victory over Longford at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park

In an act befitting such a drama, Kildare called and then cancelled a press conference within the space of two hours yesterday, as the daily GAA new cycle became voraciously consumed with 'Newbridgegate' update and opinion.

Cian ONeill's 'work commitments' were cited but the suspicion is that back channels had been opened between the feuding factions.

With so much said already, the less uttered from now on, the easier presumably for a resolution to be reached.

Yet given the entrenched positions the parties immediately retreated towards, the spectrum of outcomes is now actually quite narrow.

Either Kildare or the GAA embarked on a steep climb down or we will be left with the scenario of a walkover being awarded to Mayo.

At which point the drama will become a farce.

THE CHARACTERS . . .

. . . THE KILDARE TEAM

Unwitting victims. Their season looked to be hardly worth prolonging the day they went down to Carlow but have managed to excavate gritty victories in Owenbeg (Derry) and Pearse Park (Longford), their first wins of any description in almost a year.

Yet once Cian O'Neill said on the Six One News that Kildare wouldn't be in Croke Park this Saturday, their position was enshrined.

It can't but be a distraction, although the upside is that the issue has clearly galvanised a support base who clearly craved a cause, having become despondent at their team's awful run of form since beating Meath in last year's Leinster SFC.

For all the ethical and logistical arguments on both sides, the basic football truth is that they probably don't stand any chance of winning a match against Mayo just now unless the game is played in Newbridge.

. . . THE KILDARE COUNTY BOARD

In their statement, the board said the CCCC's decision "does not make sense to us," although that seems somewhat disingenuous.

This is not the first time the suitability of St Conleth's Park to host a fixture has been an issue.

In 2012, Kildare's All-Ireland SFC round three qualifier with Limerick was played in O'Moore Park, despite Kildare being similarly first out of the hat in the draw.

A year later, they gave up home advantage for two of their Division 1 league games; the competition's opener against then All-Ireland champions, Donegal and their March 10 clash with Dublin.

The two matches were played in Croke Park, as part of the programme of 'Spring Series' matches and the Kildare county board were reported to have received €70,000 for agreeing to the arrangement, to be put towards the upgrade of St Conleth's Park.

Whether they get their way or acquiesce now, the fact is that this wouldn't have become an issue if their county ground weren't in such dire need of an upgrade.

. . . THE GAA'S CROKE PARK OFFICIALS

The hard line stance taken by both officials (Feargal McGill and Ned Quinn) who have spoken publicly on the issue this week hasn't done much in the swell of public opinion.

The sentence "the game has been fixed for 7pm in Croke Park, and that is not going to change under any circumstances" doesn't leave much wiggle-room.

Why not stipulate in advance that home advantage is subject to ground capacity and suitability? There are further questions for them to answer also.

How, for example, can the fairness of the 'Super Eights' round be upheld if a team is forced to play their designated home match outside their county border?

. . . MAYO

Understandably silent on the whole thing but unlikely to be particularly perturbed by the row.

Presumably, Stephen Rochford's team will train with the mindset that they're going to Newbridge to play Kildare, something they did in the league in March and won by 11 points.

If it goes ahead in Croke Park, easier again for their logistics and far better for their chances.

THE plot-lines . . .

. . . HEALTH AND SAFETY

The GAA's reservations under this category seems to be broadly along the lines of those cited by Ned Quinn.

"The risk is that people will get involved with other spectators, that's the risk," he said, adding that there lay the potential for "animosity," between those with tickets and those without.

For their part, Kildare said the game would have "no issue with adhering to the criteria for St Conleths Park as previously agreed with the National Facilities/Health & Safety committee," and were granted the approval of An Garda Síochána.

. . . TICKETS

Based on the most recent Slattery Report, the capacity of Newbridge is 9,020, a figure which must be reduced by ten per cent for an all-ticket fixture.

Between the two counties, there are approximately 4,500 season tickets holders (almost 3,500 of whom are from Mayo) who have to be accommodated, leaving somewhere in the region of just 3,500 tickets left for general sale or to be split between the competing counties.

Clearly, demand would hugely out-strip supply if the game went ahead in Newbridge, although that is a sacrifice Kildare were clearly willing to make.

. . . THE FALL-OUT

Kildare have already taken the step of officially notifying Croke Park that they won't be fulfilling the fixture as announced yesterday by the CCCC, something they must do again 72 hours before the appointed throw-in or face expulsion from competition in 2019.

Under the GAA Offical Guide, there is "no right of appeal against a decision of the Central Competitions Control Committee or a Provincial Competitions Control Committee with regard to arrangements for the date and venue of a game", meaning any resolution will have to be reached between the appointed conciliators, rather than through official means.

There is always the complicated, expensive and uncertain recourse of the Disputes Resolution Authority, an option that has the potential to hold up an already compact fixtures schedule.

What's altogether more likely is that one of these sides will back down, even if neither currently looks inclined to budge an inch.

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