The Tallaght Stadium Saga continues

Last Friday Thomas Davis GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) club took South Dublin County Council to the high court to see a judicial review of the Tallaght Stadium. Their argument is on a legal point of process, but the core of the matter is that the GAA club want the stadium redesigned to accommodate a full size GAA pitch. The matter has been discussed at length elsewhere but it simply boils down to the fact that a full sized GAA pitch does not fit and so the stadium should be completed with the current dimensions. A rectangle 150m X 90m cannot fit into a rectangle 100m X 70m! Redesigning would involve demolishing at least part of the existing stand, reducing the capacity, and cost a lot more. The government has indicated that it will only fund the current, soccer sized, design.

With the matter now before the courts some GAA journalists have gone off with blinkers on while writing about this. The best example so far came from Tom Humphries in the Irish Times.

Firstly he mentions the project as a "soccer only stadium". Martin Breheny in the Indo continues this view  saying that the stadium is for the "exclusive use of a commercial soccer concern". That’s incorrect. The current plan is for a stadium that contains a pitch with soccer dimensions primarily to be used a soccer stadium. The minister of sport stated earlier in the year that the county council who have control of the stadium would be able to play other games provided they fit. This means that kids GAA games and rugby games would be accommodated as these games fit into a soccer pitch. Thomas Davis have said that they want to use the Stadium, not for themselves, but to bring inter-county games to the area. It seems more likely that they want the stadium for GAA exclusively and to remove Shamrock Rovers from the picture: "I’m confident that in any bout with Rovers that the GAA will be the last man standing," wrote David Kennedy of Thomas Davis last year in an email seen by the Irish Independent.

Humpries also goes on to paint a picture of Shamrock Rovers as an evil capitalist corporation compared to the poor benevolent volunteer GAA clubs. This is a silly distinction. Sports clubs all across the country have volunteers working for them, right the way from junior teams up to the main senior team. Shamrock Rovers have I believe 38 managers and coaches for their youth teams (over 200 players from under 7’s up); all these junior sides already are based in Tallaght. The club is also ran by volunteers on a day to day basis and on matchdays. In fact Shamrock Rovers is democratically ran by its members who appoint the board of directors. No person owns Shamrock Rovers, the supporters do.

One distinction regarding professionalism is relevant however. Shamrock Rovers pays its senior team. The players are on contracts and are given salaries (with the correct tax paid to the government!). The GAA however does not pay its players, this fits with the admirable amateur ethos of the organisation, however they recently have had a campaign to try to get the government to pay their players with tax payers money!

Speaking of money, Humphries, and a couple of other GAA sources over the last week have alleged that the government paid 19 million euro towards the construction of Croke park, the superb stadium that the GAA own in Dublin. The correct figure as verified by the Department of sport was 114 million. In fact since 1998 the GAA has received 285 million in government grants. This apparently is not enough for them hence the current campaign in the media against the Minister of Sport.

Keen sports fans will know that the recent rugby matches in Ireland and the upcoming soccer match against Wales are to be played in Croke Park. This is part of a monumental decision by the GAA to set aside "Rule 42" for Croke park for these games. Rule 42 basically states that foreign sports are not allowed to be played on GAA grounds. In practice this means soccer and rugby. It does not include American Football (Notra Dame played Navy in the 1980’s in Croke Park) or compromise Australian rules football which have been played in Croke park in the past. It suits the GAA to revise this rule at the moment since it brings in large amounts of cash from the soccer and rugby matches. Press reports indicate that the GAA receive in the order of 1 million euro per match from the IRFU (Irish Rugby Football Union) and FAI (Football Association of Ireland). Other grounds around the country cannot avail of this since it takes a national meeting of the GAA to make exceptions to this rule. But it seems that most clubs and counties don’t want to have their grounds opened up anyway. And so the exclusion to soccer and rugby continues unless there is a lot of money to be made. Its all the more staggering that Thomas Davis could lodge their affidavit with a straight face stating that they should have access to a soccer stadium while soccer is banned  from GAA stadiums!

I expect Rule 42 will fade away as the GAA catches up with modern times, with the ban lifted the local club or county could then make the decision on whether to rent a ground or not. If a GAA club can raise funds by hosting a rugby match then it seems bad business reasoning to forbid them doing so.

An earlier version of Rule 42 banned GAA members playing foreign sports or even attending such sports as spectators, this fell by the wayside in the early 1970’s. Rule 21, which is now gone, banned members of the British security & police forces playing GAA. The Police Service of Northern Ireland now field a GAA team. Rules change.

But back to Tallaght. Let me paint a picture for you.

Thomas Davis currently have excellent facilities that they use for their own purposes. The GAA have a 24 acre site just down the road in Rathcoole where they plan to build a new stadium which the Minister has offered to help fund. This would be their prime stadium on the Southside of the city; it would also be an exclusivly GAA stadium with soccer and rugby banned under the GAA’s Rule 42. Tallaght Stadium gets built with the dimensions of a soccer pitch, with a 6,000 seated capacity and the facilities you expect in a modern stadium. This would be the home for a couple of soccer teams but as it is owned by the council would be available for all sports what can fit into it, including junior GAA games. All sports get very good facilities and the people of the area get Stadiums to be proud of.

That picture looks good to me but the GAA (Grab All Association?) want everything for themselves, hence the High Court Action.

The honourable thing to do at this late stage would be for Thomas Davis to withdraw their judicial review application and instead of spending the clubs money on legal costs to focus on building the stadium in Rathcoole. Unfortunately I don’t think such goodwill and respect for other sports exists in Thomas Davis so we will have to stay on the legal route. Hopefully the judge will reach what I feel is the correct decision and help change my picture for sport in the area into reality. If the decision goes the other way, the half built Tallaght Stadium will remain derelict while Thomas Davis drag out a protracted legal battle leaving their club a lot poorer and the people of the area with a derelict eyesore instead of a stadium to be proud of.

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