Ireland's 2023 World Cup bid has put the GAA in a strong political position

Former GAA President Sean Kelly and Rule 42 supporter Tommie Kenoy have spoken to Newstalk Sport

BY Daniel Kelly 15:43 Saturday 19 November 2016, 15:43 19 Nov 2016

A view of the stadiums which are being used as part of the bid for the 2023 Rugby World Cup Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

On Tuesday afternoon, the IRFU formally launched their bid to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

12 stadia are part of the bid, including traditional rugby grounds like Thomond Park, Kingspan Stadium, The RDS and the Aviva Stadium. The other eight are to be provided by the GAA, with stadia in non-traditional rugby heartlands, such as Kilkenny's Nowlan Park and Castlebar's MacHale Park, making the grade.

The bid has the full backing of the GAA, and comes only 11 years after Croke Park was temporarily opened to both rugby and football during the redevelopment of the erstwhile Lansdowne Road. In 2010, the rule was changed to allow Croke Park to remain open to other sports. No rugby or football matches has been played there since Ireland lost to Scotland in the 2010 Six Nations, however.

If Ireland's bid is successful, capital funds will be used to upgrade the grounds, to bring them into line with the standards required by Rugby World Cup organisers. Should other sports (especially rugby) be allowed to use GAA grounds if funds are provided ahead of the 2023 event?

Former GAA President Sean Kelly, who was in charge of the organisation in 2005 when the rule was amended, feels that a successful bid will not pressurise the GAA County Boards to open up their grounds on a regular basis, but once-off occasions could be accommodated.

The Sportsground in Galway can hold 8,000 people and has sold out for big games in 2016 against the likes of Glasgow in the Pro12 play-offs and Toulouse in the Heineken Cup, and Mr. Kelly admitted that he thinks it may be reasonable in the future for the Westerners to play in Pearse Stadium should the bid be successful.

A yes vote on Rule 42 at the 2005 GAA Congress. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Morgan Treacy

"If there are rugby games played in places like Salthill in Galway, I don't see where there should be any major ideological objections to a request of occasional big games being played there in the future. I would see the same applying to places like Fitzgerald Stadium".

Tommie Kenoy was one of the main voices behind the amendment of Rule 42. The Roscommon native brought the motion to Congress through his Kilmore club, and told Newstalk he was surprised to see Cork's Pairc Ui Chaoimh on the list.

"I don't hear any complaints from the Cork direction, given the fact that Cork were so vehemently opposed to the Rule 42 campaign from day one... It was really fascinating to see the redeveloped Pairc Ui Chaoimh now ready to welcome the hosting of games in the Rugby World Cup.

The current Kilmore chairman feels that the €36 million windfall the GAA earned since Croke Park was opened to international football and rugby matches "changed the mindset" of the GAA power-brokers when it comes to opening the stadia.

In a year's time, either Ireland, France or South Africa will be announced as hosts. If the tournament is to come to Ireland, the GAA will be lauded as the crucial component in the bid, allowing another 15-man code into their stadia.

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Both Kelly and Kenoy feel a successful bid puts the Association in a very advantageous political position, especially when it comes to further sports grants in years to come.

"It makes it much easier politically to support the GAA than it has in the past", Mr Kelly admitted.

The Kerry native has become an MEP since leaving his role with the GAA, and added it may lead to "other opportunities" for the GAA, which will make funding more acceptable if the bid succeeds.

Mr Kenoy added that it gives "the GAA an extremely strong bargaining hand in terms of future funding". 

Speaking to both men, it's clear that they have an enormous sense of pride in what has happened in the past few years and how the GAA could find itself at the centre of the biggest international sporting event ever held in Ireland.

Having seen the likes of the Brazilian national football team and the All Blacks grace the Jones's Road field, Kelly concluded that this bid would not be successful without what happened in 2005 when Rule 42 was amended.

"If somebody in 2005 had been able to predict that in 2016 the IRFU would be looking for eight of our grounds to play Rugby World Cup games in, we would not have passed Rule 42. Very few are now objecting. The attitude of the GAA has changed."

In recent years the GAA have shown how strong they are as financial negotiators. Sponsorship deals are regularly announced in Croke Park as the Association shows its power in a testing economic climate.

A successful bid will give the GAA some goodwill and promotion, the likes of which, as they say 'money cannot buy'. Even from a basic logistical point of view, the September and November dates for a World Cup mean that stadia around the country like Celtic Park and Nowlan Park would be lying dormant otherwise.

It makes sense for the GAA; they know it, and the Irish public do too. Expect the Association to understandably take advantage of the situation if next November brings good news.

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