The Croke Park pitch during the All-Ireland club finals. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

'Croke Park looks tired but we now know what it can and can't take' - GAA reacts to criticism

It’s hoped that the condition of the surface will return to normal when the schedule of events eases and the weather improves.

THE GAA HAS responded to criticism regarding the condition of the surface in Croke Park, explaining that the stadium has come through a “very demanding” schedule.

The pitch appeared to be in poor condition for yesterday’s All-Ireland football and hurling club finals, with Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Pat Hoban remarking that the ground is “the worst condition we’ve seen it in” following their victory in the hurling decider.

More games will follow at GAA Headquarters this weekend in a double-header on Saturday. The action will begin with the Walsh Cup final between Galway and Wexford, and will be followed by the clash of Dublin and Kildare in their Division 2 opener.

Speaking to The42, GAA Director of Communications Alan Milton explained that the current state of the pitch has been caused by an unusually hectic run of events over the winter months.

“The pitch looks tired at the moment because it’s had a very demanding schedule. It’s probably the most demanding schedule we’ve ever placed on it for this time of the year.

“Next weekend are games 23 and 24 in a 10-week period at the height of winter. We do rigorous testing on it all the time and the results are quite favourable and are in-range from a playability perspective.

“Normally, it would be in the region of somewhere between six and 10 fixtures in the same period. So, if you put that amount of matches on anywhere, your pitch is going to suffer. The other thing I would say is that there are very few national stadia or even high-profile stadiums in the Premier League that would have the traffic that the Croke Park pitch has on it.

“It’s obviously challenging from a presentation perspective and I think when everyone comes to everybody comes to Croke Park, [they] expect to see it as it is in July and August and that’s simply not possible with the amount of games we’ve had on it at this time of the year.

“But those games are here for good reason so we now know the limits of the pitch. We know what it can take and what it can’t take.”

Milton went on to explain that games across all four codes have been staged at Croke Park recently, along with Cumann na mBunscol games for children which has all contributed to the playing load on the pitch.

When asked about the process involved in taking on a higher than normal volume of games throughout this time period, Milton said that such decisions  are put to the stadium operations team to make a judgement call.

“I’m sure there will be learnings out of it but from a playability perspective, we’re happy with the testing and the results.

“We take great pride in the presentation of the pitch, nobody more so than the ground staff here. I think if you were to survey the players, everyone will tell you they want to play here so it’s a question of trying to host as many games as you can but giving the pitch a chance I suppose.

pat-hoban-during-the-game Ballyhale Shamrocks manager Pat Hoban. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“We’ve never done it before so it’s the first year that this amount of traffic has been catered for. I suppose if you don’t go, you’ll never know, but it’s fairly obvious now that we have a better understanding of what it can and cannot take but I think if a lot of those games were played at provincial venues around the country, the pitches would have struggled there too.”

It was suggested by All-Ireland-winning boss Hoban that the series of Garth Brooks concerts last September may have left an adverse impact on the Croke Park surface, but Milton insists that that is not the case.

“No, absolutely not. A new pitch went down after those concerts. If the pitch hadn’t been replaced, it would have struggled more so I’d suggest. The pitch has a natural shelf life and it was due for replacement.”

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