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Irish Independent
Irish Independent
Sport
Martin Breheny

Eddie Hearn is working to corner the GAA over Katie Taylor’s Croke Park homecoming

Katie Taylor and promoter Eddie Hearn during a press tour ahead of the title fight against Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden. Photo by Michelle Farsi

Eddie Hearn has concerns. Although not yet elevated to the category of sleepless nights, they’re bugging him enough to share with us.

It’s all to do with harnessing his inner Martin Luther King and unloading his adaption of ‘I have a dream’ ambitions. They may not be quite as altruistically based as the original version, but then nobody expects a boxing promoter to sound like a civil rights campaigner.

Still, a dream is a dream and earnest Eddie can see it now – Croke Park packed to capacity, over 80,000 voices screaming wildly into a warm May night as they welcome Katie Taylor into the ring for a world title fight with Amanda Serrano.

Katie wants it too and why wouldn’t she? It would be the high point of an extraordinary career, but all she can do is hope her promoter makes it happen. Eddie certainly hasn’t spared the hyperbole while underlining his determination to land the big deal.

“Our focus is a million per cent on going to Croke Park. We have opportunities in Ireland with different stadiums but, for me, Croke Park is the one, it’s historic. Croke Park is where it should happen. We believe we’ll fill it,” he said.

​It’s an impressive sales pitch but then Eddie is good at that. Unfortunately, there’s a problem. According to him, Croke Park is “an expensive place” to rent.

“We’ve got to make it right numbers-wise for Katie and Amanda,” he said. For numbers, read money. So does he have a solution? Of course he does. “We do need (the GAA’s) support and we need the Irish Government’s support as well. Not in terms of allowing it to happen but it’s very expensive to go into Croke Park and put a fight on,” he said.

Maybe I’m misreading it, but this sounds very much like one of world’s top promoters looking for a cut-price deal from the GAA, backed up by Government aid.

Everything comes down to money in professional boxing so presumably Government support would have to be either financial or tax-based, perhaps even both. Achieving that double would make Eddie the ultimate diamond geezer in the world of persuasive negotiations.

Presumably he has little chance with the Government which couldn’t risk justify throwing money at a professional boxing venture – even if it does involve Katie Taylor – when there are so many other pressing demands.

That leaves ‘expensive’ Croke Park. Are the GAA heading for another moral blackmail attack where, unless they agree to a cut-price deal, they will be accused of preventing a national hero achieving her great ambition of defending the world title in the country’s biggest stadium?

Hearn and his Matchroom team wouldn’t even have to lead the outrage and since financial specifics in professional boxing tend to remain top secret they certainly couldn’t be expected to provide figures to support the ‘expensive’ claim.

All that’s required of them is to declare that while their devotion to staging the fight in Croke Park was limitless, the GAA wanted too much. It would, of course, be accompanied by expressions of deep regret that a deal couldn’t be completed.

In more logical times, that would be ignored, especially since it involved the colourful world of professional boxing. Not anymore. Now, we could expect a multi-front attack on the GAA, driven by social media’s shrieking masses.

And since politicians tend to lead from the back, it wouldn’t take long before some of them gravely declared it a national travesty that Katie couldn’t box in Croke Park because the GAA were charging too much. That should pack the Liveline schedule for a day or two.

All this might sound unlikely but it’s not. Eddie Hearn knew exactly what he was doing when he described Croke Park as “very expensive”. It’s obviously part of a negotiating strategy, which is fair enough.

But unlike other big outdoor stadiums like Wembley or the Principality in Cardiff, which he has also dealt with, he knows that moral pressure can be applied to Croke Park. That’s because it’s owned by the GAA which has always been judged by different standards to other sporting organisations.

An example is how the GAA were effectively forced to abandon their hurling championship sponsorship with Guinness, having come under growing pressure from a variety of sources, including a loud medical lobby. Such open hostility to a specific sponsorship partner didn’t extend to rugby and soccer. It still doesn’t. Guinness remain as IRFU sponsors while Carlsberg are aboard with the FAI. Strangely, that passes without comment.

Different sports, different standards, and all equating to gross hypocrisy among politicians, medics, academics and large sections of the media. I hope a deal is done for Katie Taylor to box in Croke Park. It would be a splendid occasion, although whether its capacity is required remains questionable.

Still, Hearn insists that Taylor v Serrano would pack it out. Despite that, he wants help from the GAA and the Government. Nobody can blame him for trying but if it doesn’t work out, don’t assume it’s all the GAA’s fault.

Home comforts still eluding Cavan

According to the provisional list for the 2023 Allianz Football League, Cavan will play Westmeath in the opening round of Division 3 in late January.

Both are among the promotion favourites and since it’s a repeat of this year’s Tailteann Cup final, which Westmeath won, there will be keen interest in the clash, scheduled for Cusack Park.

Once again, Cavan will be ‘away’ for their first league game, having not had an opening round fixture in Kingspan Breffni since playing Dublin in Division 1 in 2017. Odder still is the fact that it will be the 20th time in 23 seasons that they have been ‘away’ in the first round.

They have been up and down through the four divisions quite a few times in that period which may have contributed to the irregular sequence.

That’s the computer’s excuse, but surely a human hand should have given it a little jolt as a reminder that it’s unfair to have a county away so often in the opening round.

Naas GAA enjoys bumper harvest

These are special times for Naas GAA, with their hurlers having clinched the Kildare senior title for a fourth successive year and the footballers securing a double.

The footballers were unable to build on that success, losing to Kilmacud Crokes in the Leinster Championship on a day when Naas didn’t really do themselves justice against opposition who are among the All-Ireland favourites.

The hurlers made up for that disappointment with a spectacular 15-point success over Offaly champions Shinrone last weekend. It showed that not only was their All-Ireland intermediate title win earlier this year fully merited but that they have advanced further since then.

That was always going to be the big test and they passed with flying colours.
It earned them a Leinster semi-final clash with Ballyhale Shamrocks, which is about as challenging as it comes, but whatever happens in Croke Park on Sunday week, their progress thus far underlines the healthy state hurling enjoys in Naas.​

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