There we were – as, one suspects, were the Rossies too – assuming that this year’s Connacht final would be played in MacHale Park. But then along came those gutsy Yeatsmen, their great win on Saturday evening sending them into a decider in which it’s their call as to where it’ll take place.
There shouldn’t be any confusion on this score. MacHale Park and Pearse Stadium are the only two grounds currently capable of holding a Connacht final. Hyde Park was in the past and it’s planned that it will be again in the not-too-distant future but for now Castlebar and Salthill are the only options. As has already been pointed out, we have a home and away agreement with Galway, which applies to all championship games (i.e. not just finals) so our next championship meeting with them will be played in MacHale Park. The other Connacht counties are allowed to opt for a neutral venue should they reach the final.
There shouldn’t be any bickering about this state of affairs either. Two or three venues capable of hosting a provincial final are more than enough. Ulster currently only has one and Clones looks set to retain its position as the chosen Ulster final venue for a while longer given the ongoing planning travails relating to the Casement Park redevelopment. Munster has three grounds – Killarney, Thurles and Limerick (God, it pained me to write that) – that can do the job and will have four once the work on Páirc Uí Chaoimh is completed. Leinster I’ll come back to in a bit as policy there provides an interesting counterpoint to that which holds sway in Connacht.
The argument has been made that Sligo and Leitrim (London too? And what about New York?) should get up off their respective holes and construct football grounds that can hold Connacht finals. I don’t follow this logic. There is more than enough in the way of underused GAA facilities dotted up and down the country as it is without adding further to the mix. This is especially so when you consider that Hyde Park comes back into play in a few years time.
Looking back at what’s happened in recent years, we can see that the need for a neutral venue has arisen three times this decade. In 2010 Roscommon and Sligo faced off at MacHale Park and in 2012 we played Sligo at Hyde Park (an apposite error, given what happened on Saturday evening, saw me type “Hype” there just now). In 2013, though, London could have opted to have our Connacht final against them played in Salthill but they chose instead to come to MacHale Park for it.
Logistics, capacity and supporter comfort – both in relation to seating at the ground and traffic considerations – all come very strongly down in favour of MacHale Park on July 19th. But footballing logic points equally strongly in the direction of the seaside. If we were in their shoes, I know which pitch I’d like the match to be played on and it sure wouldn’t be our one.
I guess that, even as we speak, all manner of enticements are being waved in front of the Magpies to get them to come to MacHale Park and, of course, from our point of view I’d be more than happy to see such blandishments bear fruit. But I’m equally happy for it to be their call on what the ultimate decision is and I’d be content too if this decision is made for reasons other than finance.
At this juncture, it’s worth contrasting how Connacht does its business in relation to where its championship matches are played with what happens up here in Leinster. In this part of the country, all of the counties long ago sold their souls for the proverbial thirty pieces of silver and the “great experience” of playing in Croke Park. Now it’s only small fry Leinster games that are played outside HQ – creating as a result a national problem, one not of Dublin’s making let it be stressed, of the Metropolitans never having to play a championship match outside the hermetically sealed environment of Croke Park – while all the other grounds lie idle and fall ever further into disrepair.
This sad state of affairs is all the fault of the bunch of weaklings who represent their counties in Leinster, a province where – Dublin aside – standards have plummeted to a shocking degree in the past decade. But, sure, it all makes inarguable financial sense and you can’t buy the kind of experience that Longford got to go with their 27-point whipping up at HQ the other week. A packed-to-the-gills match against the Dubs at Pearse Park wouldn’t, I’m sure, have held a candle to it.
Maybe Sligo will let the financial (and traffic) imperatives prevail and choose to allow the Connacht final be played at MacHale Park. But maybe they’ll decide that the increased chances of an upset on July 19th make it worth forcing us all to traipse back to Salthill for the game. Good luck to them either way – we should be happy to defend our provincial title wherever they decide this year’s final should be played.