The fiasco surrounding the replay of the Mayo Kerry All Ireland semi-final has really left the gaels of Mayo in particular fuming.
An All Ireland semi-final outside of Croke Park just doesn’t sit right. The fact that the reason it has been moved is because of a money-spinning exercise to entice the almighty dollar to these shores and into the Croke Park coffers leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
But it’s not a one-off I hear you say, didn’t the Dubs have to go to Cork for the 1983 replay? Well that was agreed upon because the Cork County Board argued the case that Croke Park was a home venue for Dublin and it was only fair that the replay be held on the Rebel home patch (by the by I wonder when Croke Park stopped being seen as home for Dublin? But I digress..). The point is that both county boards agreed to the move. Was there any suggestion of moving the 2008 All Ireland semi-final replay between Cork and Kerry out of Croke Park when Limerick of even Thurles would have made sense to the put upon GAA fans? I don’t remember it. In 2004 was there a suggestion of moving Mayo and Fermanagh out of Croker? Of course not, that was the venue for All Ireland football semi-finals and there was no moving. Until now.
But the atmosphere in Limerick will be brilliant and sure Croke Park wasn’t even sold out on Sunday. Over 52,000 made their way to HQ yesterday and that is despite a crippling rail strike that I personally know stopped people from travelling to the game. Had the very, VERY, inconvenient rail strike not been on, there is every chance the attendance would have breached the 60,000 mark. Plus, the atmosphere was electric. From inside the stadium to those watching it on television, everyone agreed that the atmosphere was superb even without a full house. The Gaelic Grounds in Limerick is a wonderful, very under-used stadium but it is not an All Ireland semi-final venue or at least hasn’t been since Croke Park became our number one stadium. It houses a maximum of 50,000, which will in no way cater for the crowd which will want to see the game. Even the notoriously semi-final phobic Kerry supporters will want to get out and support their side, especially now that it is in a venue so close to home, and fair play to them for that. Simply put, the venue is not big enough for this game.
“Mayo should stop whinging, and just play the game wherever. Sure wouldn’t we play it in the back garden?”, seems to be another refrain being heard today. Well damn right Mayo folk are glad to get another crack at the game, and if you had said to me at half-time that the Green and Red would have a replay I’d have said “Yes please.” Had you said that the replay was going to be in Limerick, I would have said “Sorry what now??”
I would pride myself on being fairly well up on the goings on of the GAA considering that it is part of my remit as a sports journalist, but this decision came completely out of left-field to me, and it seems a lot of other people. I knew about the Penn State v UFC game since it’s announcement and I remember thinking that great and all as that is but is August not a silly time to play a game, slap bang in the middle of the busiest time of the GAA/Croke Park calender? That’s not hindsight, it’s something more than just myself thought. As it turned out, it was the wrong thing to do and it has come home to roost for the GAA. Had it been flagged well in advance that any possible replay would be in Limerick and not Croke Park, and I am open to correction on whether it was or not, well then I think there would have been some serious grumblings long before we came to where we are now. I for one didn’t hear anything about the venue for a semi-final replay being anywhere other than Croke Park, and I’m pretty sure it would have been a major topic of conversation in the run-up to what everyone agreed was going to be a very tight encounter. There was no such talk which leads me to believe that there was no announcement on the change of venue.
All in all, the game will go ahead in Limerick it seems despite objections, and meanwhile our American visitors will coo and and proclaim what a magnificent stadium Croke Park is. I wonder though will anyone tell them while they are admiring the GAA’s pride and joy that the players and people it was originally built for can’t even use it for some of the most important games of the year anymore?