RTÉ are reporting (here) that Sligo GAA have informed the Connacht Council of their decision not to take part in next Wednesday evening’s Connacht U20 decider against Mayo if the Council insists on the final being played at the Connacht Centre of Excellence in Bekan.
The U20 final is scheduled to throw in at Bekan at 7.30pm on Wednesday. TG4 are broadcasting the match live.
Sligo GAA’s statement on the issue is here. It’s worth a full and careful read.
The Yeats County’s position is a fairly simple and straightforward one. It’s long-standing practice to play provincial Championship matches – including finals – in different grades on a home and away basis. The last time Sligo played us in an U20 Championship match was in 2019 and that game was played at MacHale Park. On that basis, Wednesday’s decider should, Sligo GAA contend, be played at Markievicz Park.
Sligo GAA go on to state that “this decision has been made to facilitate television.” This is because the match is set to throw-in at 7.30pm and so the venue needs to be one with floodlights. Bekan is the only viable option in this regard but Sligo GAA state that “there is no basis on which we can accept that putting the needs of a television station before the opportunity for players and supporters to enjoy a provincial final on their home ground can be justified.”
What Sligo GAA don’t say but which is also a valid point for everyone interested in fair play is that the Yeats County, alone among Connacht counties, have yet to win a provincial title at U20 level (i.e. the old U21 grade). This current crop of players – many of whom hold provincial Minor medals from 2020 – are well placed to make the breakthrough and so the opportunity to seal the deal on home turf is not something to be given up lightly.
Look, it’s not difficult for any fair-minded GAA person to conclude what’s the right decision in this case. It’s obvious that Sligo GAA are entitled to home advantage for the final and home advantage is what they should get.
Our semi-final against Leitrim at Páirc Seán MacDiarmada – another ground without floodlights – got underway at 6.30pm last Wednesday and there’s no good reason why the final couldn’t throw in at the same time next Wednesday evening.
TG4’s support for Gaelic games – including LGFA and camogie – has been nothing short of phenomenal down the years and they’ve played a blinder this year in relation to their Connacht U20 coverage, by streaming all of the matches live.
It’s a pity to see them getting dragged into this wrangle but Sligo GAA are right: TV scheduling decisions cannot be allowed to dictate when and where matches are played and they certainly shouldn’t result in a county like Sligo suffering an unfair disadvantage at the very point where they may be about to make a historic breakthrough at U20 level.
Like every other Mayo GAA supporter, I, of course, want to see our lads win on Wednesday evening. Ahead of then, though, I expect most Mayo fans would, as I do too, like to see fair play win out and so that the venue for the U20 decider be switched back to Markievicz Park. Here’s hoping Connacht GAA see the light on this one.