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Posts Tagged ‘GAA’

All Ireland Champions on the European Stage

September 22, 2011 4 comments

It had been many a year since my Dublin team got their hands on an All-Ireland trophy but this year they did. Admittedly the route to the final was short for the team with just four games played to get there but it did include a win over a team from Ulster which tends to be the norm to win this competition. When the referee blew the final whistle at the conclusion of the final, there were great celebrations before the trophy presentation back in May of this year. Captain Dan Murray got his hands on the Setanta Sports Cup crowning Shamrock Rovers All Ireland Champions in the Tallaght Stadium.

Last week of course there was a similar tale to Rovers’ win as the Dublin GAA team captured the All Ireland Senior Football Championship. There was immense excitement in the capital but it wasn’t a game I watched. Strange you may think for somebody from Dublin especially one who played gaelic football with a south Dublin GAA club from age 11 to 17 and who went to Dublin matches both in the League and Championship. But I stopped going to gaelic matches back in 2006 when the GAA decided to take on Shamrock Rovers and South Dublin County Council (SDCC) over access to Tallaght Stadium.

The story of stadium in Tallaght is a saga. Shamrock Rovers had been unable to finance the completion of the stadium with construction halted in 2001. SDCC looked to complete the stadium in 2005 with the Dublin County GAA board making submissions to the council for the pich to be increased in size to accommodate senior gaelic games. Under pressure from the GAA, the local Councillors voted in late 2005 to amend the Council Manager’s report to include provision for GAA sports in the stadium subject to funding. However, the Department of Sport made it clear they would not allocate money to modify the stadium as significant changes would need to be made to existing structure to suit gaelic games, leading to a reduced capacity (4,500) and a one sided stadium. Six Dublin GAA clubs wrote to the Councillors to request for that decision on the enlarged stadium to be maintained but this was rejected in 2006 with the council voting to revert back to the original football sized venue that had always been envisaged.

In the previous year, Shamrock Rovers had effectively gone bust with the club being put into examinership. The Rovers fans group, the 400 Club, were able to take over the running of the club thanks to the generosity of its members. Fans, like myself, dipped into their life savings to pay membership for a number of years up front to try and save the club. It was only on the decision of the High Court that Rovers were saved but the club was not finished with playing high stakes games with its survival to be decided in the courts.

In February 2006 as SDCC were voting to push ahead with the original soccer sized venue, I was still supporting the Dubs. As well as going to games in Parnell and Croke Parks, I headed away to watch games including being present at the infamous Battle of Omagh when Tyrone and Dublin finished with 13 men each. In May of that year, Thomas Davis sought a Judicial Review of the council’s decision dealing a crushing blow to the new owners, the fans of Shamrock Rovers. It meant at best a couple of year delay in the entering the stadium and at worst meant no home at all which could have spelled the death knell for the club.

It was clear that it was not just the local GAA clubs seeking to prevent the youth of Tallaght from being raised “on a diet of association football” (as Thomas Davis stated in their High Court submission). Thomas Davis spoke elsewhere about being “the last man standing” in the bout with Rovers and the GAA. With the GAA opening up Croke Park for football and rugby on a temporary basis, their Central Council placed “on record, the strongly held disappointment that this goodwill gesture has not been reciprocated in the approach of the FAI and Minister…John O’Donoghue, to the Tallaght Stadium”. In the Director General’s Annual Report to the 2007 GAA congress there was criticism that public funds were to being used to complete Tallaght “for professional sports with the GAA being excluded at a lesser extent than we expected”. The GAA president expressed his disappointment that the stadium was not being made “big enough to accommodate GAA matches”. Thomas Davis used the 2007 general election remind their members that candidates who did not agree with the GAA club were “pinning their colours squarely against the GAA”.

This situation left many Shamrock Rovers fans that had a keen interest in the GAA, like myself, in a difficult position. Some Rovers fans continued to follow Dublin and continue to do so to this day. I took the decision to stop following Dublin as I couldn’t bring myself to support a sport that was threatening the very existence of the football club that I not only loved but was a part owner of. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but it was one I was glad I made and a decision that was right for me and is still the case. In the intervening years, I stopped watching GAA on TV or reading about it in the papers, taking more of an interest in Leinster and investing more time at Rovers. Dublin no longer was my team. To be honest I don’t miss it because I get so much from being a part of Shamrock Rovers.

Thankfully the GAA lost their Hight Court case and Rovers were able to play their first game in the stadium in March 2009.
Shamrock Rovers has been lauded in recent times as a model club. The club provides jobs for over 30 individuals including players, back room staff and front of house staff. With a turnover over in excess of €2m, the club is a contributor to Irish economy especially in the Tallaght area where 4,000 fans on average attend games from March through to October. There is also a strong volunteer element at the club – the GAA don’t have a monopoly on the great Irish sporting volunteer. Turnstyle operators, website team, marketing, communications, ticket sellers, programme sellers and writers are some of the roles that fans fill providing their own time and services free of charge because they believe in what the club, our club, is doing.

This belief has been rewarded over the past couple of seasons especially with Rovers success on and off the field. Real Madrid, Juventus and the league trophy have all come to Tallaght Stadium over the past two or so years. In the year that Dublin finally won another All Ireland title, Shamrock Rovers are bringing European football to Tallaght and taking League of Ireland football into unchartered territory with the team competing in the group stages of the Europa League with Rovers increasing the stadium capacity at their own expense to nearly 9,000. Thanks to that sense of belonging I get, that sense of pride, that sense of connection I have with my club, there is really only one Dublin team for me and that is Shamrock Rovers.

Keep on Hooping!

Rovers v GAA (June 2008 article)

February 13, 2010 1 comment

Article for Shamrock Rovers match day programme June 2008

During the summer months, it is a feast of sport each weekend.  This weekend TV sports fans can enjoy the French Grand Prix, racing at Ascot and New Zealand versus England taking each other on in rugby and cricket.    Tonight Shamrock Rovers take on Galway United here in Tolka Park and we have given up the chance to watch the second quarter final of the European Championships which is taking place tonight in Vienna.  For Irish sports fans, like most weekends of the summer, there is a chance to attend or watch the Gaelic Football and Hurling Championships.  Galway fans may well be keeping an eye on the Connaught football semi final this weekend to see who their county will be playing in the Connaught final.  However, many Shamrock Rovers fans will be looking elsewhere during GAA championship as the recent history between Rovers and the GAA has been a bitter and divisive one.

Up until the switch to summer football, during the off season many Shamrock Rovers fans swapped their green and white hooped jersey for the blue of Dublin during the summer months.  Winter evenings in Milltown/Dalymount/Tolka/Richmond Park (take your pick) were transformed into Sunday afternoons on Hill 16 cheering on the boys in blue.  The advent of eircom League of Ireland summer football saw a weekend consisting of a Rovers game on a Friday evening and a trip to see the Dubs on a Sunday for many.

However, in the last two years this has all changed due to the High Court Judicial Review taken out by the GAA over the completion of Tallaght Stadium.   In the Four Courts venue, we had the GAA taking on Shamrock Rovers in a high stakes high court battle.  Fans had to decide would they continue to support the sporting organisation that was now delaying and possibly jeopardising Rovers move to Tallaght.

The saga of Tallaght Stadium is one worthy of a mournful ballad.  Thankfully the final verse looks like being an uplifting one with the contractors currently back on site finishing the stadium.  The situation back in 2005 saw South Dublin County Council (SDCC) began the planning process to complete the stadium based on the Shamrock Rovers designs from 1997.  During this latest planning consultation process, Thomas Davis and the Dublin County board made submissions to SDCC for the stadium to be increased in size to accommodate Senior Gaelic Games.  The report prepared by the County Manager dismissed these submissions and recommended that the stadium size remain as originally planned.  This proposal was put to the SDCC County Council Members in December 2006.  Under pressure from the GAA the Councillors voted to amend the Manager’s report to include provision for GAA sports subject to funding.  Thankfully, the Department of Sport, under Minister John O’Donoghue at the time, decided that he would not allocate money to modify the Stadium to suit senior gaelic games.  This was due to the fact that significant changes would need to be made to existing structure in the stadium to suit gaelic games and that this would lead to a reduced capacity and one sided stadium.  Due to no government funding being available to alter the stadium, the Council members held another vote in February 2006 to alter their previous decision and to revert back to the original football sized venue that had always been envisaged.  Ahead of this vote a letter was sent to each Council member signed by the Chairman and Secretary of six south Dublin GAA clubs (St. Judes, St Annes, Croi Ro Naofa, St Marks, Faughs and Thomas Davis) calling on the Councillors to vote to keep the enlarged stadium.  Indeed the letter stated that if the decision went against the GAA, the clubs would review seeking a Judicial Review or possibly take the matter to Europe.  However, the Councillors voted 22 to 4 in favour of developing the football sized stadium as per the original planning submission.

During this period, Shamrock Rovers fans waited, not so patiently, to see how this planning and political process would proceed.  After the February 2006 vote, Rovers fans waited to see whether the GAA clubs would seek to stop SDCC proceeding with the stadium completion.  Eventually in May 2006, Thomas Davis GAA Club sought the Judicial Review.  It meant another delay for Shamrock Rovers with the possibility that if the case went against SDCC, Rovers may never get to Tallaght.

It soon became clear that it was not just the local GAA clubs seeking to prevent the youth of Tallaght from being raised “on a diet of association football” (as Thomas Davis stated in their submission to the High Court).  Correspondence between Thomas Davis and the Dublin GAA County board showed that they were confident in winning the case and being “the last man standing” in the bout with Rovers and the GAA.  Support was also being given by other higher elements within the GAA.  The Dublin GAA County Board, called on the GAA Central Council to support the case to gain access to the stadium.  With the GAA opening up Croke Park for football and Rugby they placed “on record, the strongly held disappointment that this goodwill gesture has not been reciprocated in the approach of the FAI and the Minister for Arts, Sport and Culture, John O’Donoghue, to the Tallaght Stadium”.

The support for the court case continued right to the top of the GAA with the stadium in Tallaght referenced in the Director General’s Annual Report to the 2007 GAA congress.  It included criticisms of the fact that public funds were to be used to complete the stadium in Tallaght and facilities for the FAI in Abbotstown “for professional sports with the GAA being excluded at a lesser extent than we expected”.  The GAA president at the time, Nickey Brennan, expressed his disappointment that the stadium in Tallaght was not being made “big enough to accommodate GAA matches”.

The broadsheet sporting pages became an arena for the battle for Tallaght.  The GAA writers, like Martin Breheny, Tom Humphries and Sean Moran put the Cumann Lúthchleas Gael side of the case in the GAA section while Daniel McDonnell  and Emmett Malone on the other pages gave the football side of the case.  Thomas Davis used the 2007 general election to urge their members to bear in mind the candidates who did not agree with the GAA club were “pinning their colours squarely against the GAA”.

The antipathy for Thomas Davis and the GAA within the hardcore Shamrock Rovers fans was nearly beginning to rival the dislike of Louis Kilcoyne.  Banners revealed by Rovers fans told Thomas Davis where to go.  This situation left many Shamrock Rovers fans that had a keen interest in the GAA in a difficult position.  Some fans had a passion for both codes and yet here was one sporting organisation trying to prevent the other from getting a home of its own.  Indeed we had Shamrock Rovers members that were also GAA members or had their children playing Gaelic Games.  Was going to a Rovers match on a Friday night and then going to Croke Park to watch Dublin on the following Sunday a betrayal of Shamrock Rovers?  It was easy for some Rovers fans to criticise others who continued to attend GAA games during this period when they never had an interest in the GAA themselves.  But for Rovers/Dublin fans it was a difficult time.  Some Rovers fans continued to follow Dublin but in a quiet manner not wanting to raise the ire of others.   Were they to turn their back on the organisation they were members of or on the Gaelic team they supported?  What difference would a boycott mean?  Yes, the GAA would miss out on the €30 ticket, the €4 programme and the €2 bottle of Coke in Croke Park but it wouldn’t really matter, would it?

However, on a point of principle many fans walked away from the GAA, a game that had always been a part of their sporting lives.  Fans saw their friends and families go to Croke Park on a Sunday without them having made their  decision to stay away.  For this writer, who had played GAA up to minor level and had attended GAA and Rovers games for over 20 years, a decision had to be made.  For me, and many others, 2006 was the last time to attend a GAA game.

Thankfully, the GAA were unsuccessful in their High Court Judicial Review but their actions delayed the completion of the stadium by over two years.  It took until December 2007 for the decision from the courts which went against the GAA.  SDCC pushed ahead with the completion of the stadium and contractors took possession of the site in May 2008.  The start of next season will see Shamrock Rovers line out in Tallaght as anchor tenants in a stadium as originally planned back in 1997.  It will be a long journey from Milltown but the last man standing will be a Shamrock Rovers fan cheering on their team in the Tallaght Stadium in March 2009.