Belfast Telegraph

Oisin McConville: Leinster Football Championship showed me that GAA in Ulster needs big stadiums like Croke Park

By Oisin McConville

I fulfilled a very unusual role in a GAA context last Sunday — that of spectator.

It’s rare indeed that I get the opportunity to take in a game at which I am not involved in some form of active manner but on this occasion I gained further proof that what’s seldom is wonderful.

Along with my three-year-old son Ryan, I attended the Leinster Football Championship double bill at Croke Park where Meath met Westmeath and Kildare took on Dublin.

To say that I chose well in terms of the first game would be something of an understatement.

Westmeath produced a stunning second-half comeback to chisel out the most dramatic of wins after having looked to have shot their bolt in a one-sided first-half in which Meath appeared to have done enough to plant one foot in the final. The second game saw Dublin emerge as the complete masters over Kildare but what really struck me about the occasion overall was the vibrant mood of spectators and the general feelgood factor that pertained.

And this set me thinking. While fans at Croke Park can avail of corporate hospitality, easily accessible shops and other superb amenities, followers in other parts of the country are not just so fortunate.

I am convinced now that a day out to Croke Park is indeed an occasion to savour, an opportunity to briefly inhabit a different world for a short spell and a chance to mingle with people from other parts of the country.

The bonhomie and camaraderie that was in evidence certainly struck a chord with me and I asked the question — what can be done to bring the same atmosphere and amenities to other grounds?

Obviously two words spring to mind — willpower and money.

I have been left to ponder the benefits that might accrue for the GAA in Ulster if a newly-refurbished Casement Park were to become a reality or indeed if St Tiernach’s Park, Clones were to be upgraded.

I know it costs big money to transform venues into state-of-the-art stadia but it will require more ongoing investment in this direction if the Association is to continue to prosper in the future.

I honestly do not believe that the GAA is maximising its corporate possibilities outside of Croke Park and I think this is something that should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

I have been to rugby matches in Leinster and in the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast and I have been very impressed by the positive approach which is taken to corporate hospitality and indeed the general well-being of spectators at both venues.

A number of the top players within the GAA such as Michael Murphy (Donegal), Bernard Brogan (Dublin), Colm Copper (Kerry) and Sean Cavanagh (Tyrone) have been made ambassadors or become associated in other ways with marketing strategies within the sport.

I believe this is an excellent way in which the Association can utilise its best players to positive effect.

We live in a multi-cultural society and this being the case I think the Association should broaden its horizons in terms of catering for the needs of all who come under its umbrella.

People pay good money to see matches and I know for a fact that they might be prepared to pay even more if they were given the opportunity to avail of better match-day services.

Attending a major championship match should be translated into an experience rather than a hurried visit to a ground where one might even experience difficulty in something as simple as obtaining a programme.

As I watched my son happily applaud scores — he was merely following the example of thousands of other spectators — I began to sense the enjoyment he was deriving from the occasion last Sunday.

I am not quite so sure that he would have been as settled and comfortable in other venues.

The challenge for the GAA now is to try and ensure that he and thousands of others are afforded this opportunity.

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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