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GAA says hands are tied and grounds can't be made available for big Connacht rugby games

It had been suggested that Pearse Stadium and MacHale Park could be used as alternative venues for Champions Cup fixtures.

Pearse Stadium in Galway will not be made available for Connacht rugby matches.
Pearse Stadium in Galway will not be made available for Connacht rugby matches.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

COLD WATER HAS been poured by the GAA on the notion that some of Connacht’s marquee Champions Cup games next season might be played at Pearse Stadium in Salthill or MacHale Park in Castlebar.

Connacht Rugby chief executive Willie Ruane said this week that they would explore all options, including the use of GAA venues, as they prepare for the return of Champions Cup rugby next season after the best campaign in the province’s history.

The limited 7,800 capacity of the Sportsground — it’s sold out for the fourth successive game when they play Glasgow Warriors tomorrow  — means that some fans will probably not be able to get tickets to games again next season.

But, according to the Connacht GAA Council’s secretary John Prenty, there is nothing the GAA can do to help by opening its doors to the successful rugby team.

“The association have agreed that we would apply for GAA grounds to be used for the Rugby World Cup, if it is to come here,” Prenty said.

“So that’s the policy now and if it happens we’d be fighting tooth and nail to get as many games as possible, because financially it would be an advantage to the region.

Our hands are tied with regard to Connacht Rugby because it is only for the World Cup that the rule has been passed. It is not an issue really.

Pearse Stadium in Galway has a capacity of more that 26,000, while MacHale Park in Castlebar can hold 38,000, and both venues, and the likely carnival atmospheres generated, would make the arrival of teams like Toulon, Racing 92 or Northampton Saints an occasion to remember in the west.

But Prenty said the GAA’s rules are clear on the use of their facilities for events other than Gaelic games.

Only Croke Park can host games that are not affiliated with the organisation once permitted by Central Council, while it has been recently written into the rules that the association’s other stadia can only be used for either the 2023 or 2027 Rugby World Cups.

“It hasn’t come up at this stage and I don’t think it will come up. It was hard enough to get it through when they applied for the World Cup,” said Prenty.

“I don’t think you’ll see the day where it’s a regular thing. It’ll be once off situations like the World Cups because it will benefit the country nationally.

“But if we bid for the World Cup and we get it, I’m sure there will be another move after that again, but in the interim I don’t think anything like that will happen.”

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