Can We Come And Play At Your House?
So ten years after the rebuilding of Croke Park began, five years since Eircom Park permanently entered the architect's bin, four years after the demise of the Bertie Bowl and after a generation of Lansdowne Road being the greatest anachronism in modern sport, the elite of Irish soccer and rugby will finally be allowed to grace the country's most fitting arena.
It says something about the peculiarities, idiosyncracies and perversions of Irish sporting politics (and the more general kind) that what would seem at the outset such a logical and obvious arrangement has been greeted as an historic event, the complexity and delicacy of whose germination elicits wonder at its completion.
The national teams of our two most popular international sports (ticket demand for whose competitive games invariably exceeds supply) will play in an available 80,000 capacity stadium in our capital city while the stadium they normally play in is renovated. On the face of it, well, it's not exactly the Treaty of Versailles. But if you were to clip and collate in newsprint the story of how this arrangement came to pass..well, you'd probably give yourself repetitive strain disorder from all that clipping.
Remember Bernard O'Byrne and the shiny colouredy drawings of the new Home of Irish Football with fancy Academy and everything out the west of Dublin somewhere? Remember Bertie and the skullduggery of the bribe to the GAA at the Congress of 2001 in order to keep possible his marbled folly in Abbotstown? Remember the IRFU acting all dignified but sort of coming across like the befuddled old major in Fawlty Towers while Basil chased Manuel around him?
Remember the whole pitch dimensions argument? Namely (and this is from a joint IRFU/FAI statement in 2001) that soccer and rugby simply couldn't play in Croke Park anyway because the pitch was too big and the fans would be too far away and it would ruin the integrity of the games and that was reason enough to row in in support of the Emperor's Golden Palace of Sport just off the M50.
Remember those GAA ex-presidents, the japesters, on the Congress Motions Committee in 2004 who came up with the spiffing wheeze of chucking out on a technicality all the democratically raised motions for the opening of Croke Park before even allowing them onto the clar for Congress? Gas!
It's ok - it's over now, you can come out.
One aftershock I foresee in all this (apart from the grim, doleful spectre of the Lansdowne Road Residents Assocation) is the problem of getting the genie back into the bottle. The amendment to the GAA constitution allows for the opening of Croke Park only for the duration of the renovation of Lansdowne Road. Presumably then the soccer and rugby folk will toddle back to their new, well appointed, but more bijou residence and the twain, once more, never again shall meet.
But what if the concept of soccer and rugby internationals in Croke Park becomes such a success, what if the Irish cultural zeitgeist embraces the new sporting order with such enthusiasm that to banish them for good once more to the more compact surrounds of Dublin 4 is thought "a bit much", and "ah would you not let them use it for the England match, sure the tickets are only gold-dust!"...?
So will Gaeldom's new found ecumenism be a passing marriage of convenience, or have these doors we keep hearing about been opened for good?