O'Neill: We must take steps to protect referees from fans
SECURITY arrangements for GAA referees and match officials will be reviewed and improved in some grounds after Cavan referee Joe McQuillan was jostled by some angry Kildare fans at Newbridge last Saturday.
The siting of the referee's room under the main stand at St Conleth's Park drew criticism after the incident, as did the decision by stewards to bring McQuillan into the teeth of the large crowd that was filing past.
The Lilywhites had just gone out of the qualifiers to Tyrone and, even though McQuillan was escorted by stewards and gardai, a couple of fans got close enough to jostle him.
Players are accommodated at a secure block, away from supporters, at the town end of the pitch, but not match officials.
"That can't be allowed to happen again," GAA president Liam O'Neill said yesterday.
"It shouldn't happen anywhere and we have to put in place whatever safety requirements (are required) to make sure that it doesn't happen," he stressed, indicating that changes will be made at St Conleth's Park and possibly elsewhere.
O'Neill admitted that the GAA's own safety committee had already indicated some concerns about where referees are accommodated.
"They have been very quick to point out where there are difficulties," he said.
"They have expressed their views on certain venues, and it shows that their attempts to put safety first have been totally justified."
Safety concerns have also increased dramatically in the past fortnight after major pitch invasions took place following the Munster hurling and Ulster football finals.
The GAA have managed to eradicate pitch invasions completely in Croke Park by installing barriers and heavy stewarding but were powerless to stop them in Limerick and Clones on the last two Sundays.
O'Neill pleaded with supporters for no more repeats.
"Any time there's a pitch invasion it is like gambling; it's like driving without a seatbelt," he warned. "You just don't know what's going to happen.
"It's proven beyond question in the last few All-Ireland finals that having the pitch clear and allowing the players the breathing room to adjust to either winning or losing, and particularly losing, has been very good and a lot safer.
"We have outlined what we think is safest and best practice and we would like people to follow that.
"There's no mixed message – we don't tolerate this. When a horde descends on a pitch it's very hard to stop them, but this is an education process.
"We took some steps – very unpopular steps at the time – but people have come around to accepting it in Croke Park," he said, referring to the plexiglass barriers placed in front of Hill 16.
"People are coming around and our message on this is clear. There are certain commentators or people who say it's a populist thing, that they (supporters) should be let on, but they should know better.
"It's not about taking draconian measures. It's a ground by ground thing and it's about safety."