GAA Director General Tom Ryan says he feels the Association was ‘bullied’ into making Páirc Uí Chaoimh available for last year’s Liam Miller tribute match.
Originally Croke Park said that the recently redeveloped stadium by the River Lee would be unavailable for the match, a fundraiser for the family of the Irish international who died last February.
They said that the soccer game, between an Ireland/Celtic legends team against Manchester United legends couldn’t be permitted due to the GAA rules on the use of their grounds for ‘foreign sports’.
This would have forced the testimonial to be played at Turner’s Cross, with a capacity of just over 7,000.
Eventually the GAA changed their mind and 45,000 paid in to watch the game in September and though Ryan is happy that the Miller family benefitted, he remains uncomfortable with how the GAA came to their eventual decision.
"I should preface my remarks with a reminder that the purpose of the game was charitable," he said, speaking as he delivered his first annual report as Director General.
"All involved were doing things for the best of reasons and the main thing is that the Miller family benefited from the event. Everything else is secondary and any reservations I have about the episode should be seen in that light."
However, he added: "My problem with how events unfolded concerns not the playing of any particular match in any GAA venue, but the blatant disregard that shown for the Association’s governance.
"Much of the clamour that arose amounted to demands for us to just ignore our own standards and indeed our decision markers. To ignore the rule or find a loophole and host the game," said the Carlow native.
"As a governing body charged with trying to uphold standards we should not be in the business of finding ways around our own rules.
"Nonetheless as the days progressed it became evident that to not ‘find a way’ would only do the Association more reputational damage, however unjustified. So that is what we did – we found a way around our own rules. That is something I am still very uncomfortable with.
"The mechanics involved identifying a legal route, establishing independently it’s validity, and convening at two days notice our voluntary Central Council from all around the country and overseas to a difficult meeting. I don’t think any of us were enthusiastic about the outcome we reached.
"The overwhelming sentiment being that we felt we had been bullied into a course of action that we might well have taken anyway if given the chance.
"In hindsight we might have handled matters differently but I do believe that the GAA was very badly served by much of the comment at the time. It was consumed so much time and energy, and yet was not an issue of our making. Frustratingly I still don’t quite know how things got to where they did.
"I know that the Liam Miller organising committee were certainly not making things difficult for us. Quite the opposite in fact. Events just seemed to take on a momentum of their own, with ever more influential people expressing ever more unhelpful and unsolicited views.
"There was an inference at the time that the GAA should be under some moral, if not legal, compulsion to allow the use of our pitches for other sports because the Association, or the specific pitch, had received public funding. This not factually correct and is not morally defensible."