Embracing the future – but forever shadowed by the past

Maybe it was fate that Stephen Ireland scored the first soccer goal in Croke Park. Or likewise, that it was French hooker Rafael Ibanez that went over for the first try on Jones’ Road. The latter was a foreigner and the former quite simply didn’t want to be there at all. Now read on…

Rafael Ibanez

At one stage, a column came off this keyboard launching a vehement defence of what will forever be known to this corner as the Railway Cup. The piece coincided with an initiative backed by the interprovincial competition’s devoted sponsor Martin Donnelly which saw both semi finals – in both hurling and football – played under lights at country grounds. With the two teams who qualified to contest the final guaranteed a trip abroad where the decider would take place. ‘At last – somebody with the vision to match Donnelly’s enthusiasm’ I headlined the piece.
Whether it was Sean Kelly or Christy Cooney leading the GAA at the time cannot be recalled. Mr Liam O’Neill – who took over as GAA President some months ago – is also a gentleman of leadership and vision. This can be vouched for personally. In 2001, the trip was made to see Meath play Laois in the first round of the Leinster U-21 FC. The scene in Portlaoise that day wasn’t what was expected.
O’Moore Park was under redevelopment at the time and, when it became obvious that the wheelchair wouldn’t cross the builders rubble hence, yours truly was resigned to not seeing any of the game. Liam wouldn’t hear of it. That day, he went above and beyond the call of duty, helping my father lift me out of the chair and allowing my watch proceedings from the front seat of his car. It takes a very special type of person to engage in such a gesture and it’s something that’ll never be forgotten.
Already, in his new position, an t-Uachtarain is displaying similar qualities. It was while Kelly held the reins that the delicate, highly emotive and no little divisive negotiations to allow soccer and rugby be played in GAA HQ were concluded. Only too well is it known how high emotions ran – and seemingly still do – regarding the subject. In Ulster in particular.
Yet, gut feeling was that, having seen Ireland take on England in the Six Nations in Croker, both national anthems having been impeccably respected and the Irish team recording one of their best wins in years – fashioned by an extraordinary try by ex Meath GAA player Shane Horgan – the awkwardness was over forever.
Maybe, though, it was all too much to hope for. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, they will stick to them and their views should be respected. Even if they are strongly disagreed with. Ulster’s distaste for letting in other codes is wholly understandable in the extreme but it was genuinely hoped that the biggest hurdle regarding this issue had been crossed. In a sense, it was, once the soccer and rugby fraternities moved back ‘home’.
That was until the issue of sporting overlap emerged again. The IRFU’s at the very least notion to stage a Rugby World Cup here down the line is an exciting proposal of foresight, excitement, and great possibility. Not only in terms of lifting the spirits of a nation – as it has been amply proven in the not too distant past sport can do – but also in showcasing what the country has to offer. And, of course, reaping the economic benefits thereof.
It was methinks a little bit more than coincidence that moves to inch the idea closer to reality ratcheted up with O’Neill in office. Opposition from up north was to be expected – opinions and mindsets in some places will never change – but the wording of the objections was way over the top and frankly disrespectful in a way.
Don’t tell me there wasn’t at least a smidgeon of envy as the cream of the sporting world descended on London for the Olympics. As it was, the view was that it was great to have such a sporting spectacle on our doorstep. Here, we are putting ourselves in line to stage one all by ourselves. As has been said it is very much in the national interest for it to happen and everything  that needs to be done to ensure it does come about must be put in place.
There’s no doubting we have both the stadia and – more importantly – the infrastructure to enable the ambition become reality. Croke Park would obviously be to the forefront of any bid. Though it has yet to be seen in person, the re-developed Lansdowne Road is also a pristine venue. Logically, the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick would also have to be used while Pearse Stadium in Galway, Semple Stadium and Casement Park have also been touted as venues. There’d be no reason why Clones or Pairc Tailteann couldn’t host games either.
It’s worth pointing out, too, that apart from the lifting of national morale and aid to the economy, staging something like a World Cup in Ireland could do wonders for Rugby here too. Certainly improving their record in the showpiece. Surely they’d perform better on home turf. Here’s hoping they get the chance.

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