GAA hope to seize Brexit opportunity


GAA to profit from Brexit with turf farm Image: Croke Park

The Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) is hoping that the aftermath of Brexit will open up windows of economic opportunity for its turf farm in North county Dublin (Ireland). Purchased in 2018, the turf farm which spreads over 60 acres of land has provided grass surfaces for Croke Park, which are required for pitch maintenance, especially in the aftermath of concerts.

‘The Irish Times’ stated that initially the turf farm helped GAA to save the overhead expense of importing stadium turf, complications in trade with Britain since its exit from the European Union (EU) means that potential logistical problems have been removed.

The Gaelic Athletic Association is an Irish international amateur sporting and cultural organization, focused primarily on promoting indigenous Gaelic games and pastimes, which include the traditional Irish sports of hurling, camogie, Gaelic football, Gaelic handball and rounders.

The 82,300-capacity Croke Park is a Gaelic games stadium in Dublin, Ireland. Named after Archbishop Thomas Croke, it is sometimes called Croker by GAA fans and locals. It serves as both the principal national stadium of Ireland and headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA). Since 1891, the site has been used by the GAA to host Gaelic sports, including the annual All-Ireland in Gaelic football and hurling.

‘The Irish Times’ quoted Croke Park Director Peter McKenna as stating, “You’re taking out the risk of transport. We had been anticipating a hard Brexit, which happened so we’ve eliminated the sort of difficulties that have been seen in the North recently. You also would have to pay a surcharge on agricultural produce.”

McKenna stated that the surcharge added potentially €100,000 to the cost of a concert.

Once the coronavirus dust settles down globally, he stated that the focus will move to gain commercial benefits from Croke Park in the future and viewed the changed trading regime proving positive.

Asserted McKenna, “Our status in the EU will give a competitive advantage when commercially up and running in relation to European business.”

In the meantime, the farm has proved its worth as a service facility for Croke Park – “It’s there to active when things are active. Since we acquired it and it’s been ready to go, pitch maintenance for us has been its mainstay. It’s required work to set it up. We need our own water sources, as taking from the mains supply would cost a fortune and getting the surfaces to the right level and into a harvestable area has also been demanding,” informed the stadium Director.

He added, “We’ve been able to take pitches in after concerts and another advantage has been the compatibility of the turf. Because it’s grown just up the road, the color matches and the grass rooting is the same whereas before taking it in from the UK after a hotter spell means a slightly different color and different root depth.”

It’s not that there has been no activity in Croke Park since December 2020 All-Ireland finals concluded. The stadium will also feature court sittings and a vaccination center, as it awaits the return of matches. But, McKenna stated that the good news is that the playing surface is in “perfect condition”.

“We did an extensive renovation in February. The weather has been benign and Spring has kicked on nicely. Things are budding and we’ve had a gentle March. For many years March 17th, Patrick’s Day, would have been colder than Christmas Day. Once you get over seven degrees, things start happening,” he maintained.

Pitch problems

Very soon, news will emerge as regards the GAA’s potential return to play prospects, when the Government of Ireland spells out plans for easing COVID-19 restrictions after Easter.

At least this year’s intercounty season – if it proceeds as per plan, will be played during the summer months.

Croke Park saw a plethora of activities last year. The heaviest rotation came as ever, in Croke Park. Between Leinster – the entire provincial hurling championship was played there – and the All-Ireland series, 18 matches were played on 13 matchdays over the eight weeks of the winter championship between football, hurling (read an Irish game resembling hockey, played with a shorter stick with a broader oval blade) and camogie (read an Irish game resembling hurling, played by women or girls).

That comes to an average of one match in little more than every three days. By the concluding weekends in mid-December the pitch, which is always in a mint condition, started showing the strain.

Remarked McKenna, “The number of matches over a very short period of time came at a stage of the year when there was very little recovery. It wouldn’t have taken much more and had really come to the end of its life for the year by the time the All-Ireland finals had been played. There was very little left.”

He continued, “We have a daily regime though and the pitch responded to rain a little bit better than pitches that don’t have activated drainage. There was a lot of rainfall last November so it was good husbandry by Croke Park and other pitches around the country. Everything that could be done to keep things going was done. We were helped that even if wet, the weather wasn’t too cold – no snow, for instance.”

The GAA is keeping fingers crossed that after Easter, when the Government reviews coronavirus restrictions presently in place in Ireland, they will be able to go ahead with intercounty training. If things go as per plan, fixtures will follow in early May so it will be the best part of two months at least before Croke Park is required for matches – and the stadium will be more than ready.

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