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Tuesday, February 6

Croke Park Is Ireland's Common Ground

Here is an article i read today in the Washington Post - pretty interesting stuff if you care for English and Irish sports and a bit of history. John thoughts? Are you for or against Croke opening up to non-GAA sports? By Michael Moynihan Special to The Washington Post Tuesday, February 6, 2007; Page E03 DUBLIN -- When the British army wanted to strike back at those fighting for Ireland's independence in 1920, there was one obvious target: Croke Park, a ramshackle sports venue on the north side of Dublin and focus for the national sports of Gaelic football and hurling. On what became known as Bloody Sunday, soldiers fired on the crowd watching a Gaelic football game, killing several spectators and one player. Visit Croke Park now and it's a superb stadium that seats 82,000 people, a sleek emblem of Ireland's economic growth with luxurious corporate boxes and convention facilities. But one of its towering stands is still named after Michael Hogan, the young footballer killed on the field in 1920. Croke Park is a facility that routinely hosts the indigenous games of Gaelic football and hurling, but when rugby and soccer matches are played in the coming weeks and months, it will serve as a reminder of how far Ireland has come. (AP File Photo) Ireland's Native Sports Gaelic Football Field: Rectangular, larger than a soccer field, with H-shaped goals at each end. Players: 15 per team. Ball: Round, smaller than a soccer ball and larger than a volleyball. Object: Propel ball through the goal. One point is scored for putting the ball over the crossbar, three for balls that go under. Other Equipment: None. Special Rules: Players cannot throw the ball but can advance the ball by dribbling with the hand or foot, punting the ball or using a "hand pass." In a hand pass, the player strikes the ball with the side of his fist. Hurling Field: Same as Gaelic football. Players: 15 per team. Ball: Known as a "sliothar," it's made of leather and 2.5 inches in diameter. Stick: Players carry a "hurley," a wooden stick that curves out at the end. Goalkeepers' sticks are bigger. Object: Send the ball through the goal, scoring one point for balls over the crossbar and three for under it. Other Equipment: Players wear helmets but no padding. Special Rules: Players can strike the ball in the air or on the ground, and may pick the ball up with the stick and carry it in hand for up to four steps. Players also can run while balancing the ball on their stick. Save & Share Article What's This? DiggGoogle del.icio.usYahoo! RedditFacebook Croke Park always has been more than just a sporting arena. That fact will be underlined once again in the coming weeks, when rugby and soccer matches are played there for the first time. The constitution of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which owns Croke Park and administers the indigenous games of Gaelic football and hurling, had forbidden rugby and soccer at its facilities since its founding in 1884. But when it was announced in 2000 that the home of Ireland's national rugby and soccer teams, Dublin's Lansdowne Road, would have to be closed for refurbishment, some suggested Croke Park bend its rules. The debate that ensued soon became a touchstone of Irish cultural life: You were either for or against, and your values could be extrapolated from your position. The debate focused initially on whether the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) should open its biggest stadium to the Football Association of Ireland and the Irish Rugby Football Union, the governing bodies for soccer and rugby, while Lansdowne Road was being rebuilt. Those who wanted Croke Park opened pointed out that the Irish government had funded its development to the tune of 60 million euros ($77.6 million). Since the stadium had been funded publicly, they said, it should be open to all. Those who opposed the opening of Croke Park maintained that the GAA was an amateur sporting organization confined to one small island, while rugby and soccer in Ireland were outposts of international professional sport. Croke Park had hosted other sports since the 1970s, including boxing and American football, but some viewed soccer and rugby as direct competition to the native sports that called the grounds home. They also asked why the GAA was being pressured after having the foresight to develop its own facilities. The rugby and soccer associations said that if Croke Park would not host their teams, they would have to go to England to find stadiums large enough to host their international contests. On and on it went. You were a narrow-minded backwoodsman if you were opposed to opening Croke Park; if you were in favor, you were sabotaging Irish culture. The debate raged until April 2005, when the GAA, to the surprise of many, decided to allow international rugby and soccer matches to be played in Croke Park while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped. The first rugby match -- a Six Nations contest against France -- is scheduled for Sunday, and the first soccer game -- a Euro 2008 qualifier vs. Wales -- will be played on March 24. One man played a large role in the resolution of the issue. When Sean Kelly was appointed GAA president in 2003, there had already been two years of squabbling on the topic within the GAA and without. "Inclusivity was the key word," Kelly said. "In modern Ireland every organization has to be inclusive, and the GAA is no exception. It's a form of maturity, of advancement, that you can see people not by their differences but by what you have in common. Welcoming people is the way to sum it up." He was guided by the changes in Irish society as a whole. Prosperity has transformed the country's demographics: When Muhammad Ali came to Dublin to fight in 1972 (in Croke Park, coincidentally), he asked where the black people hung out. "There aren't any," was the reply. Today's Ireland has a significant black presence in all the major towns. The number of Polish immigrants in Ireland is greater than the population of the country's third-largest city. Kelly felt the GAA would have to reflect the new realities of modern Ireland, although he also was conscious not to abandon older values. Croke Park is a facility that routinely hosts the indigenous games of Gaelic football and hurling, but when rugby and soccer matches are played in the coming weeks and months, it will serve as a reminder of how far Ireland has come. (AP File Photo) Ireland's Native Sports Gaelic Football Field: Rectangular, larger than a soccer field, with H-shaped goals at each end. Players: 15 per team. Ball: Round, smaller than a soccer ball and larger than a volleyball. Object: Propel ball through the goal. One point is scored for putting the ball over the crossbar, three for balls that go under. Other Equipment: None. Special Rules: Players cannot throw the ball but can advance the ball by dribbling with the hand or foot, punting the ball or using a "hand pass." In a hand pass, the player strikes the ball with the side of his fist. Hurling Field: Same as Gaelic football. Players: 15 per team. Ball: Known as a "sliothar," it's made of leather and 2.5 inches in diameter. Stick: Players carry a "hurley," a wooden stick that curves out at the end. Goalkeepers' sticks are bigger. Object: Send the ball through the goal, scoring one point for balls over the crossbar and three for under it. Other Equipment: Players wear helmets but no padding. Special Rules: Players can strike the ball in the air or on the ground, and may pick the ball up with the stick and carry it in hand for up to four steps. Players also can run while balancing the ball on their stick. Save & Share Article What's This? DiggGoogle del.icio.usYahoo! RedditFacebook "Helping your neighbors is an old Irish custom, after all," Kelly said. "I remember at one meeting about Croke Park a man said, 'If your neighbor's house burned down and you had a spare room, wouldn't you give him the room while he was having his house rebuilt?' " Kelly worked hard to get the GAA to combine old hospitality with an awareness of the new realities. The idea that Ireland's rugby and soccer fans would have to go to England to follow their teams was intrinsically unpalatable, Kelly said, but he was also motivated by common sense: "That would have been an immense cost to the economy, it would have been a major drain on the fans, but the prestige and image of the country would also have been affected badly." His pragmatic patriotism paid off. When Kelly finally won the vote to open Croke Park at the GAA's National Congress almost two years ago, the decision led every news broadcast and newspaper front page. "At the end of the day the GAA would have suffered a backlash" if Croke Park had not been opened, Kelly said. "The situation wasn't our fault, but we were the only people who could help." The aid offered by the GAA impressed many, particularly those from the Unionist tradition in Northern Ireland, who identify culturally with rugby and soccer rather than the GAA and its sports. "I think there's been a transformation in attitudes towards the GAA because of the decision, though," Kelly said. "In Northern Ireland, I've met many people from the Unionist tradition who've thanked me for it, saying it was a major step forward. When we did that, it gave a lot of people in the North the courage to cross over themselves and shake hands." Even with the historic games in view, there may be choppy waters ahead. The Irish rugby team trained in Croke Park last week, and Michael Greenan, chairman of the Ulster Council of the GAA, weighed in with a final broadside: "We have not been sold a pup but a whole litter. [The national rugby team] will have five training sessions before a match. Would any county get five sessions in Croke Park before a match? Not a chance. They are training more often in Croke Park than any of our counties would get to play there in a year." For his part, Irish rugby team captain Brian O'Driscoll -- a self-confessed GAA fan -- was gracious about the venue. "The passion and the history behind [Croke Park], it might not be so well known by the countries who come and play, but there is so much of it at Croke Park," O'Driscoll said last week. "A lot of the boys will have gone there and seen the fanaticism of the hurling and Gaelic football for sure. There is an aura about the place and we just feel we are incredibly fortunate to be allowed to play there. "It's an honor and we just feel, hopefully, it will give us that little extra element, and we don't want to let the GAA down for granting us the opportunity to play in one of the best stadiums in the world." There are legitimate worries. The GAA fears Lansdowne's zoning difficulties may keep rugby and soccer in Croke Park for longer than anticipated; the IRFU and FAI are keen to get back to their own stadium as soon as possible. However, on Feb. 24, Ireland's rugby team will play England at Croke Park. The fact that the two teams will listen to "God Save the Queen" on the same field where Mick Hogan was shot by British soldiers will serve as a reminder of how far Ireland has come. Michael Moynihan is a staff writer for the Irish Examiner.

8 Comments:

  • Once we beat England there in rugby I don't care. Just bring your rugby gear this time though.

    By Blogger TheBusbyBoy, at 3:25 PM  

  • The salient fact missing from my read of this article is the finances. The GAA is not letting them play for free. They will receive a considerable sum that will help pay off the stadium by 2010 I believe, which is several years ahead of schedule.

    With the improved finances, the GAA will try to develop interest further in Gaelic sports and there is even talk of paying players.

    It becomes a win win. The controversy stems from the fact that football and rugby were considered "garrison" games when the British were still occupiers.

    By Blogger Chris P, at 4:02 PM  

  • The money is definitely a huge factor. The only reservation I had about the decision was that it let the FAI off too lightly. They are supposed to be the professional organisation who made millions from Euro 88, Italia 90, USA 94 and Japan/Korea 02. Yet they were still renting Lansdowne Rd off the IRFU almost 20 years after qualifying for Euro 88?
    The GAA are an amateur organisation yet have, I think, the 4th best stadium in Europe.
    The IRFU decided that Lansdowne Rd needed to be knocked and rebuilt which obviously left the FAI in limbo.
    The GAA letting the FAI off the hook reminds me of that kid at school who never did his homework but copied off another kid who worked hard on it right before class and got an A. Simon I think his name was.

    By Blogger TheBusbyBoy, at 4:20 PM  

  • John mate, I sent you some spreadhseets to check over for me, get them back to me tonight please so i can turn them in at work tomorrow.

    Good point on the cash, clearly the FAI have never been very forward thinking as I am sure Roy Keane is banging on about somewhere in the world at this exact moment. Its funny, with Ireland now being so affluent and economically driven one would think the FAI would have gotten aboard 10 years ago - i guess the old guard is still there however.

    By Blogger Simon Burke, at 1:33 PM  

  • Check out their wikipedia entry:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Football_Association_of_Ireland&oldid=106552529

    By Blogger TheBusbyBoy, at 1:49 PM  

  • John - this was you wasnt it...
    Did you watch the San Marino match, i didnt see it but Staunton span it as you should have won 123-0.

    By Blogger Simon Burke, at 2:14 PM  

  • No, it wasn't me. I was sent the link by a friend. Pretty funny.

    No, didn't watch it. Was working and didn't think it was worth $20 and time off work. How right I was but not for the reasons I expected.

    I don't think Staunton said we should have won by more than we did or deserved better. He said we played badly, were poor in front of goal and made a mess of their goal. He went on about fighting spirit too much though. I know what he meant. They could have dropped their heads at 1-1 but talking up the team spirit in the absence of any quality against San Marino was just excruciating to listen to.

    I feel sorry for Staunton. He is just completely out of his depth. I hate when guys who were great servants as players (if not necessarily great players) come back to manage and ruin it all. I am reminded of Souness coming back to manage Liverpool. His name is dirt with most Liverpool fans now even though he was a huge player for them in his day. I hope Robson, Hughes or Bruce don't ever come back and manage United. (maybe Roy :-))

    Staunton's time is very limited now. We obviously don't have the talent available that we had from 88 to 02. In fact, we don't even have the talent we had available in the early 80s when we actually had some great players (Brady, McGrath, Stapleton, Moran) but had little self-belief and were badly organised. Still, a team of mostly premiership players should not get beaten 5-2 by Cyprus or need an injury time goal to beat San Marino.

    In this day and age of course, the players are never questioned. It is always the manager.

    I really hope it doesn't get too ugly for Staunton. International management is not the place to learn the trade and that's the FAI's fault. Their problem with Brian Kerr was that they felt, because he never played or managed at a high level, the players didn't fully respect him even though he was doing a pretty solid job. Their solution was simplistic - hire the country's most capped player as he will command the respect of the players even though he has no management experience and stick an old guy next to him. Ever hear of a middle ground you bunch of numb-nuts?

    We play Wales and Slovakia next which will be huge games, not that we have any chance of qualifying but because these are teams we would like to believe at least are around or own level. (as opposed to the Germans, Czechs and San Marino) Anything less than four points from those two games will be the end I think. I just hope he walks away rather than trying to stick it out to the bitter end.

    O'Leary will probably be next on the list - unless he gets another job before then.

    By Blogger TheBusbyBoy, at 4:01 PM  

  • From the Irish Independent today:

    Wikipedia says sorry as hackers use site to hit out at manager

    ANGRY soccer fans last night took to the internet calling for Steve Staunton's head with hundreds signing an online petition to get him out.

    And with the mood quickly turning sour, editors on influential website Wikipedia were forced to apologise after vandals posted a vile attack over the San Marino debacle.

    One angry internet vandal said the FAI were a "bunch of f****** useless c**** who should be taken out and shot".

    One frustrated supporter, Johnny Craig, said: "You employed a novice to one of the most important jobs in the country. As a result we have become the laughing stock of Europe. End this madness now before the damage becomes terminal."

    Another with a sense of humour, who signed himself Walter Mitty, said: "I think Stan is a great manager. He is the only one who could see San Marino for the threat they are as a rising football nation."

    Others left simple messages of "Get rid" and "Out now".

    The Wikipedia insert on the FAI only lasted a couple of hours online before being removed.

    "Everything that they touch turns to ash," the vandal wrote before attacking the FAI for sacking former manager Brian Kerr "after he did the best that he could".

    The author also attacked the FAI over the Roy Keane affair at the 2002 World Cup and the failed plans for Eircom Park.

    A Wikipedia spokesman said: "We apologise for any offence but it is the internet and we are going to have a certain amount of rubbish.

    "If you let an idiot into the website then you run that risk. We just hope that the good are not outnumbered by the idiots."

    By Blogger TheBusbyBoy, at 10:02 AM  

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