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10 December 1998 Edition

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Sportsview: Corner kicks at Croker

Pat Spillane, the former Kerry footballer and current gaelic football pundit for RTE, said on the Late Late Show a few weeks ago that he thought the Irish soccer team should be allowed to play at Croke Park.

I waited for a lively little debate on the issue but none came. Maybe Pat Spillane is not such an influential figure after all. Or maybe his revelation that the Kerry team of the 70s and 80s were too tired to have sex when they got home after training overshadowed the small matter of garrison games at Croker.

Whatever the reason, it set me thinking about the prospect of watching World Cup matches from Hill 16 and wondering whether that would be a good or bad thing for the world of gaelic games.

There have been a number of `traditional' reasons why other sports are effectively banned from GAA grounds. Not the least of these is that the GAA developed as an Irish cultural/sporting body in opposition to British culture and sports - hence the term `garrison games'. It was only a generation ago that the GAA's rules didn't allow players to play any of these other sports. There is therefore a legacy that games such as soccer are opponents of gaelic games.

This was reinforced in recent years with the success of the Irish soccer team in qualifying for the World Cup Finals. This summer event was seen as likely to affect attendances at gaelic matches and to lure gaelic-playing youngsters with its glamour. That didn't happen and gaelic games have never been more popular. It proved that people could happily support both sports - they weren't really in opposition at all. Or at least they weren't mutually exclusive.

There is something anachronistic about the concept of garrison games these days and I think most people accept that. Of course, that is not to say that the GAA isn't an important part of Irish cultural expression. It is merely to say that it no longer has to define itself in opposition to British culture. Furthermore, soccer is no longer `British'; it is very much a world sport.

Other reasons for excluding soccer from gaelic grounds are more practical. They could be summed up by the attitude: why should we go to all the trouble of building these fine stadiums and then have them used by others? Let them build their own stadiums; we need the full use of our own.

I can sympathise with this attitude. It is the largely voluntary blood, sweat and tears of ordinary Gaels that has built the GAA into the organisation it is today. Its solid, countrywide structure is a credit to all those people. They would be just right to be annoyed if a gaelic match was postponed or moved elsewhere to facilitate a soccer match.

Of course, as so often with the GAA, the clinching argument with the GAA may well be financial. They could let Croke Park out for international soccer matches and charge a large rent for the trouble. The soccer season doesn't overlap too much with the gaelic season so matches would be held at a time when no gaelic games are played there and there would be minimal damage to the pitch (compared to, say, what happens at a big rock concert).

The soccer pitch would easily fit onto the surface with more than enough room for all the sideline advertising.

Another argument is that the GAA should not facilitate any partitionist team. And that is a valid argument. Why should an organisation wedded to all-Ireland principles allow a team which represents only part of the country play in their stadium?

All that said, my prediction is that before too long you'll see corner kicks at the Canal End.

By Brian Campbell

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1