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Explainer: Can the Liam Miller tribute match be allowed take place at Páirc Uí Chaoimh?

A technicality in the GAA Rule Book could see the game played at the 45,000-seater stadium.

Former Republic of Ireland footballer Liam Miller
Former Republic of Ireland footballer Liam Miller
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE GAA COULD yet host a tribute match for deceased Republic of Ireland soccer player Liam Miller at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

This morning, the association told TheJournal.ie that it expects to meet the game’s organisers to arrange a meeting about the use of the stadium “very soon”.

It comes after a week that saw the association dig its heels in over the use of the 45,000-seater stadium.

On Friday, it insisted that a decision to have the game played at the stadium could only be overturned by Congress in February, adding that it was seeking legal advice on the matter.

But on Saturday afternoon, the association released a short statement which indicated a willingness to “discuss issues around the game” with organisers of the charity fixture.

So how likely is it that the game will go ahead at the home of Cork GAA? And why hasn’t the GAA been willing to discuss it until now?

Here we do our best to explain…

Liam Miller Liam Miller in action for Cork City Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Why is the game being held?

In February, former Manchester United and Celtic midfielder Miller died at the age of just 36, following a short battle with pancreatic cancer.

Miller, who represented Ireland from U15 to Senior level, left behind his wife, Clare, and three young children.

To raise funds for his family and Marymount Hospice, where he passed away, a glamour friendly between a Celtic/Ireland legends XI and a Manchester United legends XI was announced for 25 September.

Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Damien Duff, Robbie Keane and Denis Irwin are all among the names set to take part in the game at Turner’s Cross.

But with a capacity of just 7,000 at the home of Cork City FC, thousands of people were left disappointed when tickets sold out within minutes of going on sale last Friday.

Where does Páirc Uí Chaoimh come into it?

The idea to host the game in the newly-renovated Páirc Uí Chaoimh began to grow legs last week, when it became obvious that demand for the game would outstrip supply.

A general view of Pairc Ui Chaoimh A general view of Páirc Uí Chaoimh Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The 45,000-seater stadium is seen as an ideal fit because it means more tickets could be sold, raising more revenue for Miller’s family and allowing more fans access.

It also means being able to keep the match in Miller’s hometown, a disadvantage for other mooted options such as the Thomond Park rugby ground in Limerick.

Cork lord mayor Mick Finn also told TheJournal.ie last week that there was a third advantage to using Páirc Uí Chaoimh: being able to show off the newly-renovated stadium.

Why can’t it be used?

Although Cork GAA, the tenants of Páirc Uí Chaoimh, said they were “receptive” to the idea of hosting the game last week, they were obliged to refuse under GAA rules.

Historically, the GAA has – for the most part – prohibited non-Gaelic games from being played in its stadiums under the old Rule 42 (which became Rule 44 in 2009).

This was modified at the association’s annual Congress in 2005 to allow soccer and rugby to be played in Croke Park while Lansdowne Road was being redeveloped, a decision that later became permanent.

However, Croke Park remains the only GAA stadium in the country that is allowed open for other sports.

A decision to change this can only be made at the GAA’s annual Congress in February, meaning that the Cork County Board has no power to sanction to use of Páirc Uí Chaoimh for a charity soccer match in September.

Can the GAA change its stance outside Congress?

Until recently, the association said no.

But speaking to Today with Miriam O’Callaghan on RTE Radio One last week, barrister Tim O’Connor – who specialises in sport and law – said there are ways around the issue without the association having to go to Congress.

He pointed to Rule 1.4 (a) of the GAA’s Official Guide Part 1, which states: “The Association shall actively … assist in promoting a community spirit through its clubs.”

O’Connor argued that if Central Council treated the game as a charity event, rather than a field sport, and wrote to the Cork County Board saying as much, it would mean the board could host the game without fear of being sanctioned for doing so.

He believes Rule 1.4 (a) would trump rule 5.1, which states that all GAA property should “be used only for the purpose of or in connection with the playing of the games controlled by the Association” – excluding Croke Park.

Liam Miller Liam Miller in action for Ireland during a 2010 World Cup Qualifier Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

What happens next?

The game’s organisers and the GAA have yet to make contact, let alone arranged a meeting to discuss the use of Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

But with a thaw in the GAA’s stance finally emerging over the weekend, it now seems possible that the match could go ahead at the bigger venue.

Separately, the Department of Transport, Tourism, and Sport suggested it was ready to row in on the issue in light of a 2016 European Commission ruling on a €30m grant the government provided to help redevelop the stadium.

In its ruling, the Commission suggested that non-Gaelic sports could be played at the stadium, and told the government to monitor its use for 15 years.

A motion calling for councillors to support the use of Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the fixture is also due to be heard at a meeting of Cork County Council this evening, though this would not be binding.

It’s still far from certain that the match will be played in the Páirc, but with just over two months to go until the fixture takes place, there’s still plenty of time for a solution.

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