A bit of an unseemly row has erupted between Mayo GAA and its Hurling Board over the hurlers’ access to MacHale Park. They’re due to play a Round 4 Christy Ring Cup match against neighbours Sligo next Saturday, a match fixed for James Stephens Park in Ballina. The Hurling Board requested that this tie and their subsequent clash with Derry be moved to the reopened MacHale Park but this request has been turned down.
The story has gained some traction in the media today. The Mayo News (paper and digital variants), the Western People and Midwest Radio all ran with it this morning and it has since been picked up by RTÉ and the Irish Post.
The Hurling Board’s argument is a straightforward one. The pitch is open again and the hurlers should have the same opportunity to play on it as the footballers have. The new surface and the wider pitch dimensions at the county venue compared to Ballina would suit them better and it’s a pitch the team would love to play on.
The County Board’s position is that the redeveloped pitch is “being protected” as it’s still in “the development stage”, which means it’s not open to all teams to use. Some repair work is currently being carried out on the Albany End goal area and while the footballers have been allowed to use the pitch “a few times” they’re not training on it but are using it for “ball work.”
While the need to protect the new playing surface is understandable, the logic behind the refusal to allow the hurlers to play Championship matches on it has to be questioned. At most, the hurlers would be looking to play there twice – next Saturday and again the following Saturday – at a time of year when the weather is fine and grass growth is at its most vigorous.
It’s hard to see how two hurling matches played in the month of May would cause irreparable damage to the redeveloped playing surface. The footballers are unlikely to be in action again at the venue until early June and it could be that they won’t play another match there this year.
After a tough start to the year, the county’s hurlers have now hit a decent run of form in the Christy Ring Cup. Victories over Wicklow and London have given them an opportunity to challenge for a place in the final, a spot that will be secured if they win their upcoming home games against Sligo and Derry.
You’d imagine that the new playing surface at MacHale Park would be ideal for hurling and playing there would give the lads the best opportunity to claim a place in the final, which would be a notable achievement for them. There doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to deny Derek Walsh’s team the right to play these two matches in Castlebar and their request for equal treatment with the footballers is a reasonable one. It’s a request that deserves to be granted.