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How Croke Park will go from American football to Gaelic football in 24 hours

We meet Alan Gallagher, the man who’ll oversee the changeover.

Two very different types of football will grace Croke Park within 24 hours this August.
Two very different types of football will grace Croke Park within 24 hours this August.
Image: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

THERE’S SOMETHING UNUSUAL about Croke Park as it bathes in April sunshine the Friday before the four Allianz National Football League finals take place and, for once, it’s not that unfamiliar orange globe in the sky.

Instead it’s the field, marked – albeit with white tape – much smaller than usual and bookmarked by too luminous yellow goalposts in roughly the shape of a Y rather than the traditional H.

However, this is not some new trial by the GAA to rid Gaelic games of a goalkeeper or reduce the number of players on the field.

Instead, it’s the latest stage in the preparations for the Croke Park Classic between the University of Central Florida (UCF) and Penn State as officials from both teams converge on the Jones’ Road venue to iron out final details for the event.

For one man though, this latest round of meetings marks a tremendous opportunity to conduct a dress rehearsal for the August 30 event, setting up and removing the American football goalposts and markings ahead of a weekend of Allianz National Football League finals.

Alan Gallagher, Head of Operations in Croke Park, will be the man responsible when the venue transforms from an American football stadium to it’s more traditional role as the home of GAA for an All-Ireland football semi-final just 24 hours later.

“Setting up the field is actually quite easy, the biggest challenge is converting it from Saturday to Sunday,” Gallagher told TheScore.ie.

“What we’ve done so far is erect the goalposts and trial the paint we’re going to use.

“It’s a washable paint and, on top of that, when it comes to the Croke Park Classic, we’ll play the pitch slightly harder than we would traditionally have it for Gaelic games which, of course, suits American football.

“We’ll then spike the field once the game is over and pump water in so the pitch will have its normal hardness for the football semi-final the following day.”

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Croke Park Classic April Visit and Media Day This will be the view from the Hill for the Croke Park Classic. Source: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

When you start delving into some of the facts and figures involved in converting Headquarters for the event, even taking into account the massive difference in the size of playing areas — almost two American football fields would fit on a standard championship field in Croke Park — you really begin to understand how big an operation it will be.

For the build up to the game on August 30, it will take three days for the normal four-man crew to paint the pitch with approximately 200 litres of paint being used.

Afterwards, however, is when the real work begins with 20 people needed to remove the paint and get the pitch ready for the semi-final the next day.

“We’re really drawing on our experience from 2009 when we had two international games – a rugby and soccer game – in the space of 24 hours so we’re trying to take past learnings and implement them for August’s game.

“The key thing for us will be the attention to detail. Our pitch team will ensure than even if there is any residue of lime – from the traditional GAA markings – it won’t be seen on TV during the Croke Park Classic because it’ll be covered in grass clippings.”

Of course, it’s not just the field that will need to be changed between the two events as the entire stadium will under-go a transformation. In this area at least, Gallagher feels their experience in turning the stadium around for different codes will come in useful.

“We’re well used to switching the venue between hurling, football and camogie so our normal stadium team will be used for cleaning the stands, re-stocking the bars and changing the advertising hoardings, etc. That won’t be an issue.”

So despite the concerns there may have been at staging an event like the Croke Park Classic so close to an All-Ireland semi-final, it appears the GAA, Gallagher and his team have taken that old adage ‘fail to prepare, prepare to fail’ to heart and are very confident they will manage the turnaround come August.

This is what Croke Park will look like when it hosts American football

About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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