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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 12 December, 2018
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A guide to the 8 GAA stadiums that form part of Ireland's RWC 2023 bid

Croke Park, Fitzgerald Stadium, Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Casement Park are among the venues to make the long list.

General view of Croke Park Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

ALL GOING TO plan, in just under seven years the world’s oval ball fraternity will descend on this island for a festival of rugby.

Ireland’s 2023 Rugby World Cup bid was officially launched earlier today, with eight GAA grounds making up the 12 venues on the long list to host games at the tournament.

That number is set to be whittled down to 8 or 10 stadia by the time the final proposals are submitted next June.

The GAA venues that make the list, alongside the nation’s four main rugby grounds, are Croke Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Pearse Stadium, Casement Park, Fitzgerald Stadium, MacHale Park, Nowlan Park and Celtic Park.

That leaves us with four GAA stadiums selected in Leinster, three each in Ulster and Munster and two in Connacht.

This is something that has been in the works for some time. In March 2013, the GAA’s Congress in Derry voted in a motion to allow the use of its grounds for an IRFU bid for the prestigious competition.

We’ve come a long way since Rule 42 was lifted over a decade ago, which allowed non-Gaelic games to be played in GAA stadiums.

Here’s a run down through the GAA venues selected and a look at the ones that were unlucky to miss out.

1. Croke Park, Dublin

The GAA’s main venue has a capacity of 82,300, making it the fourth largest stadium in Europe. It would feature the final and possibly the semi-finals if Ireland are successful in their bid.

Rule 42 was lifted in 2005, allowing rugby and soccer to be played in GAA HQ for the first time two years later. Croker also hosted the 2008/09 Heineken Cup semi-final between Leinster and Munster, achieving a world record attendance for a club rugby union game at the time.

General view of Croke Park Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

2. Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney

Kerry’s home venue was the subject of a €4 million face lift in 2009, which included new terracing increasing the capacity to 38,200 and it also featured new dressing rooms. The Killarney ground cost £3,000 for its original construction in the 1930s.

Kerry chairman Patrick O’Sullivan indicated last June that further redevelopment work on the stadium could take place to increase its chances of being chosen as a venue for 2023.

General view of Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

3. Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork

The ongoing overhaul of Cork’s prized GAA ground makes it an automatic choice to be chosen as one of the eight venues. Reopening in June 2017, the €78million state-of-the-art redevelopment will house 45,000 spectators.

Located in Ballintemple on the south side of Cork city, there’s a number of hotels closeby.

4. Pearse Stadium, Galway

Connacht rugby’s remarkable rise to prominence in recent seasons shows there’s a huge passion for the sport in the western province. Galway’s GAA ground has a capacity of 34,000 and could host several pool games.

The 2006 International Rules series against Australia took place in Pearse Stadium, making it the first venue to host the series outside of Croke Park. Temporary floodlights were erected here for that occasion, and something similar could happen in 2023.

General view as the team parade behind the band Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

5. Casement Park, Belfast

The home of Antrim GAA has seen its refurbishment held up due to planning issues, but the west Belfast venue will boast a capacity on of 34,500 by the time it reopens in 2020.

The stadium will feature a bowl design which will offer protection from the elements for all spectators within the ground. The proposal also includes supporter coach travel and off-site park and ride transportation – ideal for a tournament like the Rugby World Cup.

6. Elverys MacHale Park, Castlebar

The Castlebar stadium is home to Mayo GAA and has a capacity of 31,000. The all-seater venue looks like a major contender to make the cut, given there are only two Connacht stadiums put forward.

MacHale Park was built in 1931 and underwent an  €16 million overhaul in 2008, which made it Ireland’s largest all-seater venue outside of Dublin.

A general view of the large crowd at McHale Park Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

7. Nowlan Park, Kilkenny

The formidable home of the Kilkenny hurlers has a capacity of 26,000, including seating space for 17,000 people. Nowlan Park was the first GAA ground of any kind to host a championship fixture which was broadcast live to a UK-wide audience.

It also has hosted several iconic performers such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart.

A view of Nowlan Park Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

8. Celtic Park, Derry

Arguably the most surprising inclusion on the long list is the home of Derry GAA. With enough room for 17,000 fans, Celtic Park has the smallest capacity of any ground included today.

The Lone Moor Road venue is ideally located in Derry city for a major tournament, which makes it an attractive option.

A view of Celtic Park as the two teams parade before the game Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Honourable mentions

Semple Stadium in Thurles, Ireland’s second largest stadium with room for 53,000 bums, is the highest profile absentee from the long list. Regular Ulster final venue Clones, Laois’s O’Moore Park, the Gaelic Grounds of Limerick and Offaly venue O’Connor Park were among the stadia which missed out. 

A general view of Semple Stadium as the Kilkenny players warm up Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

Note — The capacity of each stadium was provided in an official statement by the IRFU.

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Kevin O'Brien

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