By Anthony Hennigan
The management of the Mayo senior hurling team is furious at a decision to deny their side the use of Hastings Insurance MacHale Park for its upcoming home games in the Christy Ring Cup.
Mayo host Sligo in Round 4 next Saturday where a victory in that game and in the subsequent home game against Derry seven days later would secure their place in the Christy Ring Cup final. However, in what the Mayo hurling management has described as “blatant discrimination”, the Mayo County Board executive has decided that MacHale Park – two weeks after the newly resurfaced pitch hosted the Connacht SFC clash between Mayo and Galway – will not be made available to the Mayo hurlers for their clash with the Yeats County and that they must continue to play their home games at James Stephens Park in Ballina.
“It’s a complete slap in the face to lads who are putting in a huge effort to play senior hurling for Mayo – every bit as big of an effort as the footballers,” Mayo hurling selector John Cunnane has told the .
“It’s our understanding that MacHale Park will continue to remain available for the senior football team to train yet we are not allowed to play our championship matches there? The attitude of Mayo County Board absolutely stinks,” slammed Cunnane who noted how MacHale Park was even made available to the Galway senior football team who trained there ahead of their victory over Mayo.
“If there were concerns about the condition of the new surface, why wasn’t there more done to stop so many spectators and children pouring onto the playing area at half-time and after the Mayo versus Galway game?” he asked.
A request to the county executive from Jimmy Connor, chairman of the Mayo Hurling Committee, for the match between Mayo and Sligo to be fixed for the Castlebar venue was unsuccessful and Mayo GAA chairman Seamus Tuohy made no reference to the dispute at last Wednesday’s monthly County Board meeting but did state that MacHale Park “is not open to all teams at this particular time” despite what he described as its “excellent condition” for the football clash of Mayo and Galway.
“The pitch is still very much in the developmental stage even though it took the game quite well, but we had very favourable weather conditions.
“We can all be very proud of this pitch but we need to make sure we protect and manage the pitch going forward. We will be putting together a management plan regards its usage,” the chairman told club delegates.
“There’s a few jobs that need to happen straight away. We need to aerate it and sand it and we will continue to fertilise it and cut it every second day.”
The Mayo hurlers have made an impressive recovery to their heavy opening round defeat against Kildare by winning back-to-back games on the road against Wicklow and London. One more win will secure Derek Walsh’s men their status in the Christy Ring Cup for another season, another two wins would guarantee them a place in the final in Croke Park on May 21.
“It’s obvious that hurling is only a nuisance to Mayo County Board. It always has been and decisions like this would convince one that it always will be. What else can you read from this decision to open MacHale Park to the Mayo senior football team but not to the senior hurling team? It’s blatant discrimination,” said John Cunnane who anticipates further representations will be made to Mayo GAA officers to revisit their decision.
“We want to avoid a ‘Newbridge or nowhere’ type scenario but let there be no doubt about where we believe next Saturday’s game should be played and where we expect it to be played,” he remarked.
“Ballina Stephenites have been brilliant in providing their facilities for our home games so far this season but most observers would accept that the current state of their ground makes it unsuitable for championship hurling. It’s interesting that Mayo County Board avoided playing any of the footballers’ league games there, preferring instead to play them at venues outside the county.”
John Cunnane says Derek Walsh, the rest of the Mayo management nor the players will allow themselves to be distracted by the situation but they hope common sense will prevail and that the game is allowed to proceed in MacHale Park.
“As everyone knows, due to the unavailability of some players and a series of injuries, we had a very difficult League campaign but now we are just two games away from a Croke Park final and a chance to move up to the second tier of hurling (Joe McDonagh Cup). This opportunity seemed unimaginable just a few months ago.”
It’s understood a compromise suggestion by Jimmy Connor that the crucial game would instead be played in Tooreen, the ‘spiritual home’ of Mayo hurling, rather than Ballina, was also rejected by the Mayo GAA executive because Adrian Freeman Memorial Park does not hold ‘county ground’ status.