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comment Who's bigger at Croker - Garth Brooks or the GAA?

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Garth Brooks pictured at Croke Park. Photo: Mark Stedman

Garth Brooks pictured at Croke Park. Photo: Mark Stedman

Garth Brooks pictured at Croke Park. Photo: Mark Stedman

Garth Brooks is not the archetypal GAA hero.

But he will give the association an almighty financial injection next autumn.

Nobody puts bums on seats in Croke Park faster than the 59-year-old Tulsa born singer-songwriter.

Yesterday morning, tickets went on sale for his planned two concerts at the stadium on September 9 and 10. Within 40 minutes, an extra date was added, Sunday, Sunday 11, due to phenomenal demand.

By 10am, a further two dates were announced which will take place on Friday September 16 and Saturday 17. It is estimated that fans will splash out €30m on tickets and few expect there will be any spare tickets.

As one wag put it on twitter, we now know the real reason the GAA decided to hold next year’s All-Ireland final on the last Sunday in July.

Aiken Promotions must be sorely tempted to measure exactly how many concerts would the aging crooner sell-out in Ireland.

Why not a tour of GAA stadia: Nowlan Park, Pairc Ui Chaoimh – which has a crippling €30m debt to clear – Semple Stadium, Fitzgerald Stadium and McHale Park in Castlebar, another venue which is costing Mayo GAA clubs a small fortune as they pay back a loan to Croke Park.

Being a shrewd businessman, Croke Park director Peter McKenna never reveals how much precisely hosting concerts are worth to the stadium.

According to the stadium’s financial accounts for 2018 they earned a tidy €5.56m from what was termed ‘hire of facilities’. This was an increase of 36% on the 2017 figure of €4.10m.

In 2018 Croke Park hosted four concerts: The Rolling Stones, a double date with Taylor Swift and Michael Bublé attracted a combined audience of 250,000 fans.

Brooks will probably do bigger numbers as he’s lined up for five nights.

After a financially disastrous 2020 and a better - though still way below par 2021 - the rent raised by the Brooks concerts will help fill some of the holes in the GAA balance sheet.

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Peter Quinn ought to go down in history as the GAA’s best President.

Together with the then director-general Liam Mulvihill they saw the commercial potential of a modern stadium and foreseen how it could become the Association’s cash cow.

Admittedly the local residents will disagree, but the one upside of Croke Park is that its economic potential is massive.

I was thinking recently of compiling a list of the worst decisions ever made in Irish sport – off the field.

The Irish Athletic Boxing Association’s failure to retain the services of Billy Walsh would figure on any list, as would the split in Irish athletics which meant the legendary Irish hammer thrower Pat O’Callaghan was unable to go to the 1936 Berlin Olympics where he would have been fancied to win a third successive gold medal.

One could devote a whole section to the FAI.

But one woeful decision which has largely been forgotten happened at a 2001 GAA Congress.

Kilmore GAA club from Roscommon proposed that Central Council have the power to authorise Croke Park for field games other than those controlled by the association.

In those days it required a two-thirds majority to change a rule and the motion fell short by an agonising two votes after a ‘show of hands’ vote.

The President at the time Sean McCague, vocally supported by the then Cork secretary Frank Murphy, refused point blank to have a recount.

Twenty-four hours earlier a government led Bertie Ahern announced out of the blue that they were providing a €60m injection for the Croke Park redevelopment project.

At the time Ahern was hell bent on pressing ahead with building what would become known as the ‘Bertie Bowl’ in Abbotstown.

The argument for a new national stadium would have been blown out of the water had Croke Park been available to host rugby and soccer internationals. In the event the Bertie Bowl eventually ran aground and instead Lansdowne Road was redeveloped.

Had the GAA voted in 2001 the chances are Lansdowne Road would still have been redeveloped, but on a much smaller scale.

Croke Park would have hosted all the big rugby and soccer internationals into the foreseeable future which, of course, they did while Lansdowne Road was being rebuilt.

Between March 2007 and March 2010 Croke Park hosted 14 rugby internationals and 13 soccer internationals.

It was also the venue for the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final between Leinster v Munster which attracted a then world record attendance of 82,208 for a club rugby game.

The GAA earned €36m in rent money over the three years. And they would have earned millions more going forward had that 2001 motion received two more votes.

So, instead of watching Johnny Sexton and Seamus Coleman, we have to listen to Garth Brooks instead!

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