By Sean Creedon
September is a busy time for the GAA with the All-Ireland hurling and football finals at Croke Park. But this year the GAA will have some very special visitors to Croker during September. Representatives from UEFA, soccer’s European governing body, will visit Dublin to inspect the revamped Croke Park. The visit is part of the joint Irish-Scottish bid to host the 2008 European Championships.
At their recent Congress, the GAA refused to open Croke Park to soccer, but the Association has given permission to the FAI to include Croke Park in their joint bid to UEFA. And that decision to open up Croke Park will come eventually.
Meanwhile, it looks like the new-look Croke Park will definitely be ready to stage the second Leinster football final on June 23. Earlier doubts about the growth of the new grass on the newly laid paid have been dispelled. But the first semifinal on June 16 between Kildare and Offaly will not be played at Croker and will go ahead instead at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny, normally the venue for big hurling games.
But the Leinster Council didn’t rate Nowlan Park big enough to stage a Leinster hurling semifinal doubleheader and consequently Semple Stadium will stage both Leinster hurling semifinals on Sunday, June 8.
Kilkenny will be favorites to beat Offaly, while Wexford should dispose of the Dublin challenge. The “Yellowbellies” will be without their star find from last year, Dave “Doc” O’Connor, who broke a finger in training. In Ulster football Armagh, following their win over favorites Tyrone in the first round, must be fancied to overcome Fermanagh. And Killarney, so long out of the limelight in recent years, will get a game which does not involve Kerry.
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The Munster football semifinal between Clare and Tipperary goes ahead at Fitzgerald Stadium on Sunda
Kelly called up
Munster’s John Kelly called up to Ireland squad for the tour to New Zealand. Kelly comes in to replace Rob Henderson, who was forced out last week by a shin injury. Henderson is the fourth center to pull out of the trip. Already out were Shane Horgan, Kevin Maggs and Jonathan Bell. A week ago Kelly couldn’t get into the Munster team, but when Anthony Horgan was injured, he took his chance and had a great game for Munster in the European Cup final in Cardiff.
Meanwhile, Denis Hickie has been voted the Guinness Rugby Writers of Ireland Player of the Year. Hickey had a great season with Leinster and Ireland. Hickie is also unavailable for the tour of New Zealand.
Babb comes back
In all the fuss over Roy Keane, soccer fans may not have noticed that former Irish international Phil Babb moved clubs. Babb, who won the last of his 34 caps against South Africa in the U.S. two years ago, moved back to England from Sporting Lisbon. Babb signed a three-year deal with Sunderland and says he wants to resurrect his international career.
“But first of all it will be good to play in the premiership again and we will see how it goes from there,” Babb said.
Babb and Mark Kennedy were both sent home from the Irish team hotel in Dublin prior to the opening game in the World Cup campaign back in September 2000 when they were arrested for vandalizing a Garda car. Both were forgiven by manager Mick McCarthy, but while Babb has not played since then, Kennedy made the World Cup squad before pulling out with an injury.