But now we have one of the finest stadiums in the world. The GAA deserve enormous credit for what they have achieved here. A brand new stadium built where an old one use to stand and not a game postponed because of it. Truly remarkable.
The new Croke Park was born and raised with the Celtic Tiger. It perfectly mirrored the journey from an Ireland of failure to an Ireland of incredible success; an Ireland weary with emigration and envy to and Ireland of enormous self-confidence. Is there anything that we can’t now achieve?
And yet Croke Park is still the centre of a controversy over our identity and the struggle between old Ireland and new Ireland
Isn’t it ironic that the founders of the GAA would have seen themselves as the antidote to the garrisons and their games. Now Ireland’s greatest citadel stands aloft with no room for those games.
Very shortly, this Easter, the GAA Congress will meet in Croke Park (for the first time). On the clár will be motions to open Croke Park up to other games. If the GAA has learned the lesson of both Croke Park and modern Ireland, it will throw the doors open.
And it’s not just that the extra money would come in handy. Or that not to open up would be a public relations disaster. (Though both are true).
On the one hand it’s because our games have nothing to fear from any sport in the world. If we’re good enough we’ll survive and thrive and the lesson is that we are as good as anyone else.
On the other hand it’s because there can’t be grades of Irishness. The modern Irishman and Irishwoman is as happy at watching soccer at Dalymount and rugby at Lansdowne as hurling at Croker.
Maybe in the past they were actually different people but now it’s more likely that the average Irish sports fan would happily be at any of the three venues.
We want, as a people, to be both national and international, to sample and savour the sports and cultures of the world while having some of our own to bring to the table.
Croke Park should be the ideal venue for this feast.
So who paid for Croke Park?
The final bill for Croke Park comes in at €265m. Some people say that public money built the stadium. In truth, it probably didn’t cost the taxpayer a penny.
The total contribution of the state was €110m. Think about that.
The VAT payback on the overall cost comes to €46m. The taxes and PRSI on the wages of those employed on the project would easily account for the rest.
Think of the economic contribution to Dublin on match days with significantly increased attendances and then Croke Park becomes a money spinner for the economy.
If anyone else has an investment as good as this one – let them have the money.