Down duo speak out against new Hill 16 fence
TWO stars of Down football have spoken out against the GAA's decision to fence in fans on Hill 16 on the day that their county takes on Kildare in the All-Ireland semi-final.
Corner forward in today's team, Benny Coulter, has spoken out strongly against the move.
"Fans bring so much to our game in terms of colour and atmosphere and the least they are entitled to is to be allowed to come onto the pitch at the finish," he said.
"They've stuck with their team in good and bad times and it's only right they can share in our hour of glory whether it's at club or county level. They will get on the pitch somewhere if they like. If I was a fan and I wanted to get on the pitch I would. I might get a black-eye but I would be happy.
"In 10 years' time, if a Down team wins an All-Ireland final and I'm supporting them, I would hope to get on the pitch."
Two-time All-Ireland winner and former manager, Ross Carr, said the issue was very delicate and capable of splitting the GAA fraternity down the middle.
"This is just my personal view, but 10-20 years ago you had supporters coming onto the field with a warmness about them," he said. "There was definitely a very good-natured feel about it, much more of an innocence and there was less cynicism around. Players would have felt entirely safe in such an environment.
"But what happened in the Leinster final this year has changed all that. It would never have happened 15 years ago. The bottom line is that society has changed. And if that's the risk, the fear and the health and safety concern that exists in the GAA now, well there's a problem.
"Still, I feel we're going overboard and I don't see why supporters will not be let onto the ground. I don't know if it's right and wrong but the GAA seem think the best thing to do is to lock the spectators in. I wouldn't be for it; the GAA are charging good money for today's game. They say that the fence is clear and all the rest but what happens if it inhibits someone's view on the terrace? Down the line it could lead to trouble."
The GAA say that the design has been implemented in the most unobtrusive possible manner and point out that they had no other choice but to put the fence up. "We had to do something," says Communications Manager Alan Milton.
"God forbid that there would be a serious incident and we hadn't looked into doing all we can to prevent it. This is a last resort for us, but if pitch invasions continue we could be in serious trouble. A key problem is that we have people leaving the ground, all trying to go out the same way -- the Jones's Road side. Spectators all come in via different entrances before the game but afterwards everyone makes their way out onto Jones's Road. We have Gardai footage to support that theory and the footage that their cameras picked up after games of huge crowds in that particular sector is frightening.
"The stadium is simply not designed to have everyone leaving the same way and Jones Road is constantly blocked after big games. If someone even fell or tripped on the pitch, or outside, it could lead to a very serious incident.
"The pitch certainly can't manage a crowd of 40,000 standing on it after games. The pitch capacity is only 15,000 for concerts.
"I think when spectators see the new fence they will realise that it's not that bad at all and it won't be a major issue."
Meanwhile, the GAA could today crack down on 'phantom whistlers' who have been in operation at Croke Park in recent weeks. Stadium chiefs plan to monitor transgressors via CCTV footage.