This has, I know, been debated a bit already in the comments but it’s worth confirming that this year’s Connacht final will either be played at MacHale Park or at Pearse Stadium. Which one it is depends on the outcome of tomorrow evening’s semi-final between Galway and Sligo: if the former come through then, by virtue of our home-and-away arrangement with the Tribesmen, it’ll be in Castlebar but if the Yeats County make it then it’s their right to opt for a neutral venue, in which case the match would have to be played in Salthill.
This is because only MacHale Park and Pearse Stadium currently fit the bill as regards the kind of 21st century facilities and capacity required to stage provincial finals. Hyde Park used to be in this category too – with 2012 the most recent provincial decider to be held there – but anyone who sampled the rudimentary facilities at the Roscommon venue the last day, Portaloos included, wouldn’t need too much persuading about whether or not it’s up to hosting a Connacht final.
So, if it’s us (or Galway) up against Sligo, Roscommon, Leitrim or, as was the case last year, London in the decider, they have the right to insist that the match is played at a neutral venue. London could, by virtue of this, have gotten us all to traipse over to Salthill last July but seeing as they’d most of their own traipsing done by the time they’d crossed the Shannon they wisely opted for Castlebar instead. Sligo could, of course, do the same but it’s also their right to send us to that traffic-infested hole by the sea if they want to as well.
It’s worth noting that no home-and-away arrangement works in this instance nor does any “It’s my turn to choose which venue it is” either. If it’s us v Sligo ten years on the trot then each and every year they can either insist on the game going to a neutral venue or opt to let it be played at MacHale Park. We don’t have any say in the matter.
That’s all find and dandy and we’ll play wherever we’re told to play. Which is, of course, what the Dubs always say when the issue of perpetual home advantage is put to them (that and that other nonsense about Parnell Park being their home venue with Croker only a neutral location).
On that note, it’s interesting to contrast how and where the Leinster Council schedule matches in their provincial championship compared with how our lot do. The Leinster Council make no bones at all about their policy – recently enunciated at the launch of the Leinster championship some weeks back – that Dublin should play all their games, not just finals, at Croke Park. It’s worth further noting that this is a decision freely entered into by all Leinster counties (turkeys voting for Christmas or what?) so it’s not as if the Dubs are refusing to come out and play. It’s simply that their provincial competitors aren’t requiring them to do so.
Can you imagine our neighbours in Connacht voting to let us play every single Connacht championship match we’re involved in from here ’till eternity in MacHale Park (which is, don’t you know, the only all-seater GAA stadium in the country and whose capacity of 42,000 is well in excess of Pearse Stadium’s puny 26k, most of them standing)? No, neither can I.
For what it’s worth, I think it’ll all be a moot point for this year come tomorrow evening as I’d expect Galway to have enough in the tank to see off Sligo and book their first Connacht final appearance since 2009. But it is an issue that’s going to keep coming up and no doubt will do so again (involving either us or Galway) at some point around this time next year.