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Mature reflection on Rule 42

Kevin McStay
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Conor Mortimer and Alan Dillon
MAYO’S ALL STAR CAST Conor Mortimer and Alan Dillon are pictured after the Vodafone GAA All Stars Tour game last weekend in Dubai. Pic: Sportsfile

Some mature reflection on Rule 42

Kevin McStayKevin McStay

WE are only weeks away now from the historic rugby match that will mark the ‘opening up’ of Croke Park. And perhaps you might reflect on it all and agree, that similar to many a GAA struggle of the past one hundred years or so, the surprising aspect is often how easily, in the final days of a long and tortuous campaign, a stubborn and contentious rule gently falls to the ground. And signals a new era.
I wrote this piece in the middle of 2006 following a long conversation with a proponent of Rule 42. Although some events have overtaken the opinions given you should note the prophetic nod he gives about the use of GAA provincial grounds for Heineken Cup games. Munster and Leinster may well have done the state some service by losing their final pool games and thus no longer in need of a home venue, but our ‘Man at the Front’ had anticipated their reaction when all was to play for. And was correct.
Rule 42, and all belonged to her, was always a controversial and contentious rule. Those domiciled in the corner for change must look back wistfully at a previous Congress or two and wonder what all the noise was really about. In the early days of the campaign (that is when those in charge actually allowed it to make the clár) grown men were known to feel a tightening of the old sphincter muscles and head straight for the toilet to relieve themselves of their tension; others quoted stomachs who felt their throats were cut and legged it out for the old ham sandwich.
The floor would quickly empty of the delegates who always tried to play for both sides and another opportunity would be lost. Our own county did not cover ourselves in glory when it came to enlightened contributions; indeed, as noted above, the toilet often beckoned.
On a famous Friday night a few years ago, the lobbyists realised their numbers had at long last stacked up. And it was only when government coffers suddenly opened up and unleashed a torrent of cash towards Croker that the case fell apart. Dashed again by the tightest of margins.
By the Congress of 2005 the argument was more straight forward; the immediacy of the Lansdowne Road closure now tossed passion and emotion into the an explosive mix of travel weary delegates and only one result was possible – Croker opened to the masses. Sean Kelly had the distinction of presiding over the historic moment but other past presidents were in the rear view mirror.
Many argued at that time (especially those who felt HQ should not open up to other sports under any circumstances) that Sean Kelly was a seeker of soft publicity and had allowed himself become the darling of the media. This opinion hardens among the ‘agin’ gang but is, I feel, unfair to the man himself; after all he, ultimately, faced the hostile left and won the day.
The argument is that Sean Kelly’s cosy relationship with the broadcasters and the hacks did not allow for a full and informed debate as the anti side faced a public, informed by a compliant media, who had long ago decided what result they wanted.
This lazy media effort failed miserably to give the ‘other view’ and that when it did, the ninety-something year old from west Cork who himself was on the sidelines for the Bloody Sunday match, was wheeled out.
My own position remains the same; I was very much in favour of opening up our stadium and the reasons included matters such as extra finance for underage coaching, the certainty in my own mind that home rugby and soccer international games could not possibly go overseas and most importantly, the sense that a vote to abolish Rule 42 was a moment in time, a moment that announced a new found confidence in ourselves as an association.
And even though that maturity was limited to Croke Park only I would have no problem with another amendment to allow provincial grounds, from time to time, and on a case-by-case basis.
It is nearly two years since the famous vote and the world has not stopped spinning on its axis. But it is worth revisiting the event from the ‘other side’; what do those against its removal think now? Were they indeed marginalised in the debate?
I WAS recently in the company of a committed member who articulated a viewpoint that is hardly popular at this time but nonetheless it does not mean it is off the page either. His is a reasonable and well-debated position, hardly to the left of Attila the Hun. His questions are matter of fact and the answers might not sit too easily with those of us in a rush to win the popularity contest.
Here they are then, in no particular order-read them carefully. And answer them honestly.
A most basic opening position. Each sport in modern Ireland is committed to giving the youth of the island world-class opportunities to be the best they can be. The effort to win their hearts and minds is certainly on and everywhere we look each sport is digging deep for their slice of the action. Each side is trying to capture the players that might consolidate their futures. All is fair in love and war-nothing wrong with that approach I guess.
Thus, to use a business model of such a scenario, could you possibly see Bank of Ireland invite Allied Irish Banks to use their premises during the latter’s building refurbishment project? Would it even get as far as a BOI business agenda? Would it pass GO?
Games were always played in Croke Park during the reconstruction phases. Serious planning allowed All Ireland finals to go ahead with a fully-fledged building site as their backdrop. The GAA might be an amateur organisation but they insisted on professional project managers earning their crust.
The game was always more important than the gate and the attendance, though lower, was never allowed to dictate to the decision-making process. Was this approach ever a consideration over in Lansdowne Road?
What was so wrong with using Ravenhill for international fixtures (rugby), Dalymount Park for soccer and Thomond Park for both if they wanted? And plan to live with the loss of revenue as the GAA did?
And there is every chance another difficult situation will arise if Munster win through to a home Heineken Cup QF next year. A crowd of 35,000 will need to be accommodated. It cannot go to Dublin as rugby HQ is closed. Are we looking at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick? More emotion from the local populace to win over the GAA?
The exchequer funds promised to rugby/soccer had a few add on clauses; the dimensions of their new playing surface should be large enough to accommodate GAA games (perhaps the odd NFL decider, a Leinster championship game or two, All Ireland QFs and a qualifier here and there). Memory says the GAA went so far as to informally list the games that might be suitable in such an event.
The local Chamber of Commerce had been screaming about the loss of revenue if international games went to Manchester or Liverpool. Rule 42 had to be relaxed from a tourism and revenue point of view. Now that the plans are before us and it is obvious the new stadium’s field is not big enough for football, we have a deafening silence from Dublin’s merchants. It appears that allowing a game to be played outside the capital is not so terrible after all.
It is accepted that the current arrangement has the support of the vast majority. At the time it was passed some counties registered their deep distrust of the motion and voted accordingly. Their argument included the possibility of the opening up of provincial and county grounds. The Heineken Cup outcome noted above tends to support their fears.
  And now that the agreement is ring-fenced for the period when Lansdowne Road is being re-built, the boundaries are being pushed further out day by day. ‘Do ye mind if we train on it next week so that we have a feel for the surface before the Wales match?’ Does the FAI realise that stuff like this will drive GAA heads crazy?
And as the article comes to a conclusion, news that GAA clubs in south Dublin are heading to the courts. It appears that the new municipal stadium in their area, about to become the home of Shamrock Rovers, will be unable to house local GAA games because the pitch dimensions are too small. That then, just about squares the circle.
So, the arguments will continue. Until the day finally arrives in February 2007 when the first match is played on the ‘sacred sod’. And similar to the fall of the rule itself, the furore will gently abate and fall to the margins.
Next item, please.