Croke Park Classic sends Gaelic football teams on unwanted trip to Limerick
DUBLIN — Players and coaches from both Penn State and Central Florida haven’t even stepped off the plane in Dublin, yet they find themselves inadvertently caught up in a scheduling controversy at historic Croke Park.
In Gaelic football, a championship match that ends in a draw must be replayed in its entirety. So when Kerry and Mayo tied in Sunday’s All-Ireland Gaelic Football Championship semifinal match, it required a replay, which would normally be held the following week in Croke Park.
But the field is booked. Penn State and UCF are playing there at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the Croke Park Classic, forcing Kerry and Mayo to reschedule their match at Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, two hours southwest of Dublin.
Mayo protested the decision, its coach called the change “bizarre” and Gaelic football fans are not pleased.
Tom Hughes, a native of Galway, located just two hours west of Dublin, said he is “disgusted” and called the decision “absolutely crazy.”
“The American football, I know, was planned,” he added. “It has to go ahead. But we could play another time.”
Hughes said the pitch belongs to the players, and they deserve the right to compete at the stadium that has witnessed a great deal of legendary games. Gaelic Athletic Association competition is strictly for amateurs, a point of pride shared by both athletes and fans. Croke Park is their home.
“Every player wants to play in Croke Park,” Hughes said. “Every young person, their dream is to play in Croke Park. Just bring them back. Let them play. There’s nothing wrong with a week later.”
The GAA has been criticized by several former players and Gaelic football supporters for not having a back-up plan to keep the semifinal match replay in Croke Park.
Former Dublin player Ciaran Whelan, an analyst on Ireland’s national television network, said, “This is prime time for our games, when we should be in Croke Park.” On Twitter, fans blasted GAA president Liam O’Neill, with one saying the GAA had “forgotten its culture.”
Mayo’s appeal was turned down, but O’Neill said Monday that no future American football games would be played at Croke Park in August or September.
Even without the untimely semifinal replay, the pitch must be refurbished and changed back to its original Gaelic football parameters in less than 24 hours to be ready for the second All-Ireland semifinal, Dublin against Donegal on Sunday.
Valerie Collins, a Kerry native and supporter, admitted that the match in Limerick is a shorter trip for fans like her, but Gaelic Grounds’ capacity of 49,866 can only hold about half the supporters of a packed Croke Park, which is the third-largest stadium in Europe. Sunday’s match drew about 52,000 fans.
“We, as supporters, we feel very let down that they would take American football at this time of year because they know championships are going on,” she said. “We’re supporting our county, and then the matches, the semifinal, there’s going to be half as many people able to get tickets. It’s an awful shame.”
(C.J. Doon is a student in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State. Fellow student Greg Pickel contributed to this report.)