Saints get Croke Park ‘history lesson’ before semi

Home » Saints get Croke Park ‘history lesson’ before semi

Northampton Saints fly-half Fin Smith says his side have had an “eye-opening history lesson” about Croke Park before they face Leinster in Saturday’s Champions Cup semi-final.

Saints will be the first English club to play at The Gaelic Athletic Association’s (GAA) headquarters.

On Bloody Sunday on 21 November 1920, 14 people were killed when British forces opened fire on a crowd attending a Gaelic football match at the stadium.

The killings took place against the backdrop of the Irish War of Independence.

GAA rules allow for other sports to be given access to association venues for “events of national significance”.

In March, the GAA agreed “rugby and soccer activity” could take place at the venue in the coming months.

The Aviva Stadium in Dublin is unavailable, with the venue preparing to host the Europa League final on 22 May.

Northampton’s Irish strength and conditioning coach Eamonn Hyland gave a presentation on the ground’s history to the squad on Monday.

“I was pretty moved by the lesson and was sitting there with goosebumps,” Smith told BBC Radio Northampton.

“It was a real eye-opener for the history and how hostile it’s probably going to be.”

More than 82,000 fans are expected at a sold-out Croke Park, which last hosted a club rugby match in 2009 when Leinster defeated Munster 25-6 in an all-Irish European Cup semi-final on their way to winning the competition for the first time.

The stadium also staged rugby and football internationals between 2007 and 2010 during the redevelopment of the old Lansdowne Road venue, which became the Aviva Stadium.

Saints’ director of rugby Phil Dowson added: “It’s absolutely fundamental that we have an appreciation of the significance of Croke Park, both culturally and historically, to the Irish battle for independence and to their psyche.

“At the same time we are not playing against ghosts. We need an appreciation and respect for the history, but then we have to get our game on the field.”

Northampton, hoping to reach their first Champions Cup final since losing the 2011 showpiece to Leinster, have doubts over wing Ollie Sleightholme and back row Lewis Ludlam with concussion and shoulder issues.

Leinster have finished runners-up in the past two editions of the competition.

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