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Dubs fans rail against fences

THE Dublin GAA Supporters Club has launched a scathing attack against the new fencing to be installed in front of Hill 16, claiming that people who watch from the famous terrace are being rebranded as "second class" fans.

The group also called on the GAA's Central Council to overturn last weekend's decision to replace the existing 0.8-metre barrier with a much higher one, stretching to 2.8 metres.

However, the hierarchy's "last resort" option has been welcomed by the Gaelic Players Association, some of whose members have taken a high-profile lead in the recent campaign warning against the dangers of pitch invasions at Croke Park.

Sky Blue denizens of the Hill are not amused, though. "This decision, taken by a group of people who never use the facilities of the Hill, and without discussion with supporters' representatives, is paradoxically a retrograde step in the health, safety and welfare systems for the stadium," the Dublin Supporters Club claims in a statement posted on its website, www.thehill.ie.

"It will impede the visibility from the terrace, lead to severe discomfort for those attending games and may lead to major crush problems at the end of finals."

The Supporters Club goes on to criticise the level of stewarding on the Hill this season. The fencing proposal is "one of the latest in a series of actions taken against fans watching games from a historic part of the ground, and brands Hill attendees as second class supporters," the statement alleges.

"Already this summer those attending games on the Hill, and only those attending in this part of the stadium, have been subjected to frisk searches, have had closed bottles of water confiscated, even though water is on sale in the ground, have been delayed entry to the ground while other parts of the stadium are open, have had flagpoles taken and had to watch on as elderly attendees have been subjected to intrusive questioning and search.

"This decision has been explained as a response to problems experienced at the Leinster final when difficulties were experienced at other parts of the ground and for which no action is proposed.

"The club calls on the Ard Chomhairle to reverse its position, to leave the pampered, closeted confines of the luxury seats of the stands and experience the real life of attending a game on the Hill. We are certain that then, and only then, would fans on the Hill gain the respect and proper treatment they deserve," the group concludes.

In predictably stark contrast, the GPA has reiterated its support for the move. "Pitch invasions are a player welfare issue and we are happy to support the campaign to have them phased out," said spokesperson Seán Potts.

"We have had plenty of anecdotal evidence of players being struck at the end of matches, as recently as the Leinster final. So we would see it as an important development -- as far as we are concerned, pitches are for players."

Potts said he understood the tradition of fans coming onto the pitch. "Everyone is sympathetic towards the tradition that was there, even some players. It is difficult to get players to go on the record about something like this because they don't want to be seen in any way distancing themselves from their supporters," the GPA official explained.

"I think that is very much a cultural thing as well because you have instances in professional sports were players are distanced or cosseted away from the fans.

"Ultimately that is not the case here; I think there is a great and natural rapport between our amateur players, who live in their communities, and the fans base.

"I don't think that by stopping people coming on the pitch you are in any way distancing that. Once the safety concerns are there and have been proven to be real, we are happy enough to support this campaign."

He concluded: "Obviously nobody likes to see fencing and nobody likes to see legislation introduced, but the fact of the matter is they are intent on ending pitch invasions and we are happy to support it."