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GAA denies public opinion influenced change in venue for Kildare-Mayo fixture

Director of communications Alan Milton also says that the ‘health and safety of patrons’ was the GAA’s primary concern.

St. Conleth's Park.
St. Conleth's Park.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE GAA SAYS that a ‘groundswell’ of public opinion did not influence the discussions which led to a change in venue for the All-Ireland SFC qualifier between Kildare and Mayo.

The game was originally fixed for Croke Park as part of a double-header with Cavan against Tyrone, despite Kildare being entitled to home advantage after they were drawn out first on Monday morning.

The situation led to a stand-off, with Kildare insisting that they would only fulfill the fixture if it was played in St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge.

The GAA has been heavily criticised in the past few days over the matter, but Director of communications Alan Milton insists that the public’s reaction did not influence the association’s choice to stage the game in Newbridge.

Speaking to RTÉ Sport about what motivated the GAA to reverse their decision, he said.

“On Monday, the CCCC came together to fix these games as they do every week and they have to do so with a degree of haste given the pressures that are put on them. And they weren’t satisfied with the health and safety measures around St Conleth’s Park in Newbridge.

Thankfully discussions have taken place since then [that] have seen some of those issues addressed but I think it’s worth saying that the only driver in this whole thing was the health and safety of patrons.

“That has now been addressed and thankfully we’ve come to a situation where St Conleth’s Park can host the game and host the large crowd that’s expected, not just from Mayo but from Kildare too, and we’re back now talking about Gaelic football.”

Milton also referred to the passionate speech which was delivered by Kildare manager Cian O’Neill on RTÉ News earlier this week, and expressed his understanding for why the Leinster side would want to play the game on home soil.

A view of St. Conleth's Park St. Conleth's Park. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

But he stressed that any public support that Kildare received was not considered when rearranging this championship fixture.

“I can understand why any county would want to keep a game on their home ground. It offers them an advantage, they’re familiar with the place.

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“Mayo wouldn’t be as familiar with it as Kildare would be and I suppose when Cian spoke the way he did, and as passionately as he did, it probably broke ground in that ordinarily inter-county managers don’t take that course of action.

So, I think the media and how people communicated has changed profoundly in the last decade, I think we’re all aware of that. And it probably lead to a groundswell but that was going on in the background.

“It doesn’t affect how conversations are had and how people come to decisions when they have more information, and changed information, in front of them. That’s precisely what happened.”

When it was put to him if financial gain, or placing a double-header at Croke Park to suit Sky Sports’ broadcasting of the ties was a factor in their original decision, Milton replied:

“Categorically not. Some of the most experienced and distinguished administrators in the GAA, including our provincial secretaries serve on the CCCC.

“They’ve organised hundreds of games down through the years, they’ve vast experience and the only driver here, as I’ve already said, is the health and safety of our patrons who attend the games.

“I’m not too sure if people place enough store on health and safety until something goes wrong but I can tell you it was the only motivation behind the fixing of the game for Croke Park.”

He continued:

“Conversations took place with [the] Kildare County Committee and An Garda Síochána and a different type of plan was put together to facilitate it.

“I think when you look at the figures that have been attending Mayo games in recent weeks, and indeed recent years, and given the level of support that they have, I think most people would realise that this fixture would place certain demands on Newbridge that we weren’t comfortable it would be able to cope with.

Those conversations have obviously lead to a different match-day strategy being put in place. Again, we urge people who don’t have tickets not to come to Newbridge on Saturday evening because it has the potential to cause unnecessary hassle for people who do have tickets.”

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