We need to talk about Croke Park. The current version, completed in 2002 after a nine-year construction programme that ensured the venue never closed, still stands favourably alongside newer venues in the country like the Aviva Stadium and Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
The pitch is never less than excellent, no matter the time of year and the recent concert schedule.
Location-wise, it’s as good as you’ll get in a mid-sized city (bar Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, which is actually city centre), and is within walking distance of the main thoroughfare. But is it used a bit too much?
After Monday morning’s draws for the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, former Kerry star Darran O’Sullivan tweeted that it would be “incredible” to hold the Cork-Dublin and Kerry-Mayo games at Páirc Uí Chaoimh: “A full house in a brilliant new stadium that would be rocking.”
There was quite a bit of engagement – a lot pointing out the difficulty for Mayo people in making the journey south, but general agreement that a creative solution would be better than all four games – Derry meet Clare while Galway clash with Armagh – being housed at headquarters.
When the email came in the late afternoon confirming Croker, it was hardly surprising. Boxes and premium-level tickets are sold on the basis of All-Ireland football quarter-finals taking place in Dublin 3, but it’s rare to hear a more compelling argument put forward as to why these matches are located there.
Double-headers on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon are unlikely to be full houses and there is a danger that an exodus after the first match would contribute to even less of an atmosphere for the second game.
One might say that if, for example, the Derry-Clare clash was there but Armagh-Galway was in Clones, then the winners of the first game could have an advantage for the semi-final.
But then, Mayo beat Kildare at Croke Park last Saturday while Clare were victorious against Roscommon, so those two have something on their opponents Kerry and Derry respectively.
We’re not saying that Croke Park should never be used at this stage, but just that it shouldn’t be the only option.
Cork football doesn’t have a massive support and it’s unlikely there will be many present for a 6pm start against Dublin on Saturday week.
Of course, the Dubs would be huge favourites to win that match in any event, but providing them home advantage just makes the outcome a bit more inevitable.
If all provincial champions were at home in the last eight, there would be some sense to that – a reward for coming out on top in their local championship – but this is just another example of the lopsidedness of the whole thing.
Meanwhile, this Sunday sees a double-header on Jones’s Road that is also unlikely to result in a packed house but at least the Tailteann Cup semi-finalists will be reaping the benefits of their efforts so far.
In order to make the competition attractive, a Sunday free of other activity with both semis in Croke Park was promised and this will be the ultimate test of the cup’s future viability.
Sligo meet Cavan at 1.45pm, while Westmeath take on Offaly at 4pm.
An off-shoot of the Tailteann Cup scheduling is that both of the All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals are slated for Saturday – and a further limitation comes from the RTÉ programming.
While defeats for Leinster and Ulster in the United Rugby Championship semi-finals last weekend means no Irish involvement in the decider, the national broadcaster is contracted to show the all-South African final between the Stormers and the Bulls, which kicks off at 6.30pm.
Generally, a Saturday GAA double-header with both games televised would have slots of 5pm and 7pm but, with that not possible, we have Cork meeting Galway at 1.45pm and Clare up against Wexford at 3.45pm.
As expected, Cork and Wexford beat Antrim and Kerry respectively last Saturday – though a bit more laboriously in the case of the Rebels – and now they will take on teams looking to bounce back from provincial final losses.
The first match could really go either way, with Cork and Galway capable of moments of great quality and great frustration.
While the Rebels have won all six All-Ireland finals between the counties, Galway have come out on top in the counties’ last four championship meetings – you have to go back to 2008 for Cork’s last win.
Making the job harder is the possibility of being without Rory Hayes and Peter Duggan
Cork’s win over Antrim made it three on the trot as their turnaround continues since losing their opening two games to Limerick and Clare.
While the performance against the Saffrons wasn’t flawless, it will probably suit their management to have something with which to push the players this week.
By contrast, Galway were favourites to win Leinster but lost to Kilkenny in the final and it can be hard to pick a team up after that, though of course it might also give some motivation.
For Clare, there was also a provincial final loss, after extra time to Limerick, and the task for them is to lift themselves to the same levels.
Making the job harder is the possibility of being without Rory Hayes and Peter Duggan through suspension and it’s understandable that there are misgivings in the Banner County at how the bans arose in the wake of Sunday Game coverage, when only the Clare actions were highlighted.
Wexford had a mix of results in the Leinster championship but finished it well with an away win over Kilkenny and Kerry were seen off in efficient fashion in Tralee.
Darragh Egan’s side will be underdogs in the second game in Thurles but they will sense an opportunity.