In a historic first for the province, a GAA ground in Ulster will host a rugby match. Ulster Rugby’s new pitch at Kingspan Stadium won’t be completed until the middle of October, far too close to the start of this year’s URC. However, Ulster GAA came to the rescue, themselves stating ‘it reflects how the Governing Bodies regularly come together to promote Gaelic games and rugby across the province at a grassroots and professional level’.
The match itself will take place on the 7th of October, in Cavan town’s Kingspan Breffni Park, providing south Ulster’s rugby fans a chance to see their team action, without needing to make the trip to Ravenhill’s Kingspan Stadium. However, the question arises; ‘why Cavan town?’. No doubt the main sponsors of both Cavan GAA and Ulster Rugby, Kingspan, had sway over the decision. The company, founded and headquartered in Kingscourt Co. Cavan, trades in over 200 countries worldwide and has sponsored Cavan GAA since 1995. In 1999, Kingspan started sponsoring Ulster Rugby.
Before the match could be confirmed, permission had to be sought from the GAA’s central council, which has grown accustomed to allowing rugby to take place in GAA grounds. Rule 42, which prohibits horse racing, coursing and non-Gaelic games from taking place on Gaelic grounds, has increasingly lost its bite since the rule was waived, when Croke Park was opened to rugby and soccer, in 2005. Aside from Croke Park, Páirc Uí Chaoimh is the only other ground to have hosted foreign games (the great irony being that Cork GAA were fervently against the proposal in 2005, until the new Páirc put them in debt).
Breffni park, however, displays a departure on the GAA’s behalf. While Croker and Páirc Uí Chaoimh can be described as ‘stadia’, Breffni Park is more at home with the designation of ‘Provincial ground’. The most high profile matches normally played in Cavan are Ulster semi-finals, bar the 2013 International Rules which took place at the venue. It’s worth asking, what effect will this have in the long term? Can we expect Connacht Rugby playing high profile matches in Sligo or Castlebar? Will Trinity GAA get to train on College Park?