Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Choker in Croker

In March 2005 during the tension surrounding the build-up to the GAA’s imminent decision on whether to open Croke Park up to non-Gaelic games I had a letter published in the Irish World newspaper. The gist of my argument was that it was about time the GAA abandoned its little Irelander mentality of narrow-minded conversatism and hostility towards "foreign" games, an attitude which has no place in the enlightened cosmopolitan Ireland of the 21st century. In any case the costs of Croker's redevelopment came partly out of the taxpayers' pockets so the people who financed the project had every right to decide how it should be used. 6 months later I was in Croke Park itself at the 2005 All Ireland final when the Red Hands plundered the Kingdom top bring the cup back across the border. One of many memorable events the park has played host to.
And now the Ireland v France 6 Nations rugby match, a different kettle of fish... And we had the inevitable jokes about southsiders wary of crossing the Liffey to behold he strange world of the northside.

It was a shame about the result, but Europe’s fourth biggest sports stadium was a genial host. I watched the game on the BBC, who didn't fail to play up the sense of occasion. They even provided a brief history lesson in the run-up to the game. Even BBC Radio 4 had a piece on its Sunday morning news by Ulick O’Connor with references to Bloody Sunday in 1920 and De Valera officiating at an All-Ireland hurling final.

From floodlit matches to "foreign games", Croke Park has truly come circle. Few will doubt that the right decision has been made. The GAA would allow highly offensive spectacles such as U2 concerts and even Leinster finals at Croke Park, but not so much as a rugby or soccer match...that is until now. The organisation, once commonly referred to as the Grab All Association would have been mad to turn down fees of £1 million per match in any case.
So the GAA's infamous Rule 42 has at last been (albeit temporarily) laid to rest. The very number cited by the universe's most powerful computer, according to the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy as the answer to the question of the meaning of life. Surely it can't be a coincidence?

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