Inside Track with John McIntyre
THE GAA rightly got a bad rap for decades over its hostility to other sports – an attitude which manifested itself in hurlers and footballers being banned from playing rugby or soccer. Players who were caught transgressing the rule and participating in ‘foreign games’ were handed out stiff suspensions and ostracised by the Association.
Conservatism, nationalism and self-preservation were at the root of the GAA’s hardline approach to keeping its members onside, but even before the Ban was belatedly removed in 1971, the mood for changing this archaic rule had been growing for years. Thankfully, there was enough forward-thinking officials around the country to bring about what, back then, was a monumental shift in policy.
The GAA has hardly looked back since. Apart from the landmark development of Croke Park, the profile of Gaelic Games has never been greater, while the standard of competition is at an all-time high – despite what some misty-eyed traditionalists might claim. Furthermore, the exceptional quality of most club facilities are a fitting testimony to the volunteer ethos which has been the bedrock of the Association since its foundation in 1884.
In 2007, the GAA gained nationwide acclaim for making Croke Park available to the IRFU during the redevelopment of Lansdowne Road. Who will ever forget the emotion when England came to Jones Road for their Six Nations clash with Ireland in February of that year. It was an iconic day in the history of Irish sport and the GAA gained plaudits from near and far.
Now, the Association has again risen to the challenge in making some of their flagship grounds available to assist the IRFU’s bid to host the 2023 World Cup. France and South Africa are also in the running, but Ireland’s campaign has already begun in impressive fashion and one senses all bases will be covered and nothing left to chance by the Dick Spring led Irish lobby group.
The IRFU, of course, wouldn’t have even contemplated bidding for the World Cup unless the GAA had come on board. Twelve stadiums have been identified as potential venues to host matches, but only four of them – the Aviva, Ravenhill, Thomond Park and the RDS – are rugby grounds. The other eight are all GAA, with Galway’s Pearse Stadium and Mayo’s McHale Park among them.
On the surface, the omission of the GAA’s second biggest stadium, Thurles, is surprising until concerns about the lack of transport infrastructure and hotel beds are taken into consideration. To put it mildly, the Tipperary stakeholders are fuming over their exclusion, with local TDs Jackie Cahill and Alan Kelly on the warpath. Nobody is now talking about the usurping of the GAA’s traditional values in making their grounds available to competing sports, it’s all about trying to get a seat on the financial gravy train.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.