Belfast Telegraph

It's time GAA played ball

By Declan Bogue

The story that former Liverpool player Jamie Carragher is considering paying the fine imposed upon Longford club Dromard, for hosting his soccer school on GAA premises, has highlighted one of those archaic rules that trips up the Association from time to time.

How heartless it looks to hand down a financial penalty of €2,000 to a small club, buried under the never-ending cycle of insurance costs and levies from county boards to fund capital development and county teams.

Croke Park has hosted other sports, for example an American Football clash between Penn State and University of Central Florida two years ago and Ireland's Six Nations battles against France and England in 2007.

In Belfast, the St Brigid's club have a ground-share arrangement with Harlequins rugby club, where they rent their premises for training purposes. Former Antrim PRO Brendan Mulgrew is a coach at the club and points out the hypocrisy of the rule.

"We are stuck for space. There are so many teams from Under-10 right up to senior, football and hurling, boys and girls, we are stuck for space," he explained. "We have Musgrave, but it's nowhere near enough.

"So we therefore use Harlequins every Sunday and sometimes midweek as well. It is in constant use.

"We don't use the pitch when they need it, and we don't play on the main rugby pitch, we play on the side pitch which they also train on. It makes commercial sense for them, it helps to pay for their upkeep."

Mulgrew can also point to other examples where Belfast clubs are able to throw their gates open.

He stated: "My son plays for the Aquinas soccer team. They train at Sarsfields every Thursday night on their new 3G pitch.

"It's the same thing with Lamh Dhearg up in Hannahstown, they have a new pitch and they rent it out to any sporting organisation. And it helps pay for the upkeep of their pitch and their club.

"I am not sure if that breaks any rules or not, but they have their main pitch which isn't let out, and they have a 3G pitch that they let out commercially and they charge proper rates.

"I don't understand how a rule can apply to one and not the other."

Dromard's Gerry Sheridan has commented: "It is very confusing. The GAA will hide behind whatever rules are there. In hindsight we would have asked for special dispensation beforehand, although we probably wouldn't have gotten it. It is hard to fathom the rationale of it."

Motion 48 at this weekend's GAA Congress - which comes from Clare - is seeking Central Council autonomy over the use of county grounds for uses other than GAA games.

When GAA Director-General Paraic Duffy was asked to explain the Dromard fine, he undoubtedly left himself a bit of wriggle room for the future. He stated: "Any club can do the same if it thinks we should open up club grounds to other sports. I don't think it would get very far but the option of having it discussed is there."

'The Ban' as it used to be known, was a far-reaching rule where members of the GAA were not even permitted to watch 'foreign' games - cricket, hockey, rugby and soccer.

In 1938 the GAA were forced into the incredible situation of banning then President of Ireland Douglas Hyde for attending an International soccer match. It limped on for decades before being removed at Congress in Belfast, no less, in 1971.

The Belfast of then and now is unrecognisable. Society is unrecognisable. In that light, the fine handed to Dromard looks mean-spirited.

This week, Dromard sent out their club notes. They are promoting a Blood Transfusion Service. Irish Dancing classes will be hosted. The 'senior and minor ladies and Mammy's training' takes place on the astroturf. A number of spin and kettle bells classes take place and a minor club underage player registration session is fixed for Monday.

They are contributing probably more than any other social group in their area, and this is their reward.

A few pounds from hosting a soccer school is small beer to Croke Park, but makes a significant difference to a club as busy as Dromard.

The GAA should find some way of getting rid of this rule in the near future, or even expand the interpretation of the rule. But here is the thing about rules - the GAA has a history of not implementing their own.

In 2010, a Cavan motion was passed requesting that every trophy was altered to make it unsuitable for drinking alcohol out of. It was greeted with a shake of the head.

This, however, is a rule worth changing. It's madness not to.

Belfast Telegraph

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