Negotiations to play a ground-breaking Guinness PRO14 rugby clash between Munster and Leinster at Páirc Ui Chaoimh this Christmas are at an advanced though delicate stage.
The revamped headquarters of Cork GAA is the preferred option among key parties in the discussions to host the glamour clash of the provincial giants on Saturday, December 28, though certain commercial issues remain to be ironed out.
If those issues can be resolved, the first rugby fixture at the Páirc would provide a potential boost of €7-10 million to the local economy. At the moment the game is scheduled for Thomond Park in Limerick.
It is understood discussions have been progressing between Munster Rugby and the commercial board of Páirc Ui Chaoimh towards facilitating the game, which would be a first application of the GAA decision to allow county grounds to be opened in exceptional cases to other sports.
Last February, at GAA Congress in Wexford, that decision was taken, in part, because of the furore over last summer’s Liam Miller charity soccer game, also played at Páirc Ui Chaoimh.
On that occasion, GAA officials pointed to the Association’s own rules as barring such games, but public pressure mounted to the point where the game was played and the stadium hosted a capacity crowd. Now, under the change in rules last February, the GAA’s Central Council has the power to open county grounds “in exceptional circumstances” for “activities other than those controlled by the association”.
At the Congress, GAA Secretary General Tom Ryan said: “It’s probably not a good thing to be completely restricted in all circumstances. You have to have a little bit of discretion and trust Central Council to exercise that discretion.”
Páirc Ui Chaoimh has been out of commission since last month, with extensive work being undertaken to repair the playing surface, which cut up badly in an Allianz League double-header last February. It is understood those remedial works are on schedule, which would facilitate the playing of a rugby match at the end of December.
Though Cork GAA are not active participants in the discussions, it would reap a healthy financial reward from the rugby game at the Páirc, said to total in the region of €300,000. Cork GAA is heavily indebted in the wake of the Páirc Ui Chaoimh redevelopment, which is likely to cost around €95m.
If successful, the game may open up the possibility of further lucrative games such as knock-out encounters in the Heineken Champions Cup.
Teams involved in the latter stages of European competition may nominate grounds – though not their own – for home semi-finals within their own country.