Croke Park was the scene of some of the most thrilling moments in Irish sport and was also the scene of a bloody massacre.
Head of this Sunday’s All Ireland soccer final where Kerry and Galway will battle for the right to hoist the Sam Maguire Cup Irish Independent Take a look behind the scenes of the historic building.
“This is our cathedral, Croke Park is the national stadium for Gaelic games,” said stadium director Peter McKenna.
This hallowed GAA bastion will receive a full house of 83,000 supporters on Sunday, plus 3,000 other workers including gardaí, medical staff, security guards and cooks.
Overall, the stadium hosts more than a million people annually, “which is a phenomenal number considering the country’s population is just over five million,” McKenna said.
“You get a sense of the importance of Croke Park within the social fabric and social history of the country. It has always been a totem for people to celebrate what it means to be Irish in a very positive way.”
Mr McKenna also outlines the trophy’s appearances before it is presented to the champions.
“The trophy has probably the most fantastic journey of any silverware in the stadium. His journey begins for her on Saturday evening in RTÉ Until the match program, then one of our stewards will take it away in a specially designed case and keep it overnight.
“I’m not going to tell you his name because you know what’s going to happen to it,” Mr McKenna joked.
The next morning the chalice is brought to a special Mass.
“Traditionally, we have a mass at the stadium, which is celebrated for all the stewards who, a few years ago, would not have had the opportunity to get a mass because they come to the stadium for work that day.
“So we keep that tradition alive. The trophy becomes part of the ceremony.”
After that, Sam makes his rounds through the sponsors’ boxes, back through the RTÉ studio and is placed on the pedestal as the players race onto the pitch. At the award ceremony, the winning captain runs around the place and then “disappears on the bus”.
“So it has traveled very far. I would say there isn’t anyone in Ireland who wouldn’t want to be the trophy for those three or four days because you get to see everything,” added Mr McKenna.
We do everything we can to ensure they are protected
“It is without doubt the most famous silverware in the country.”
The stadium itself strives for best-in-class sustainability practices.
Mr McKenna said: “I would like to think that we are keeping up with, if not leading, society. We have a zero trash to landfill policy at Croke Park and no trash or waste is generated. These are things that we are really, really proud of.”
Pointing to one of the large video screens in the corner of the stadium, Mr McKenna added: “Behind that screen is a raven’s nest. She comes every year. She has now moved out at this time but we kept her to protect her kind. Then at the top we have hawks nesting.
“There is also a colony of bats hanging from the roof. And then we put up birdhouses on many buildings so that swifts can build their nests.
“When we know there are protected species, we do everything we can to make sure they are protected.”
Meanwhile, groundskeepers like Keith Cawley make sure the pitch is perfect.
“We take care of everything to do with the pitch, make sure it’s perfect for games,” he said.
“The conditions on the pitch are fundamental to the game. If the pitch isn’t right, the players are the first to blame for the pitch.”
This meticulously maintained pitch remains the mecca for all GAA sports enthusiasts and players and is home to children’s games, the Camogie Finals, hurling and soccer games.
“This stadium is representative of everyone who plays our games,” McKenna said.
Tony McGuinness, Head of Stadium Operations, explained how the iconic Hill 16 is part of Irish history. “Hill 16 is connected to our independence struggle and the GAA would have played an important role in that. According to the story, Hill 16 was built from the rubble of the 1916 uprising,” said Mr McGuinness.
Although originally called Hill 60, Mr McGuinness said: “Hill 16 obviously alludes to a far more poignant moment in our history.
“Now people look back and see the bigger picture. That brings us back to the present with the GAA. It comes full circle.”
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/gaelic-football/inside-croke-park-ahead-of-football-final-we-meet-the-team-keeping-gaa-cathedral-pitch-perfect-41853743.html Inside Croke Park: Ahead of the football final, we meet the team that keeps the GAA Cathedral pitch perfect