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Controversial Hill16 screen will return for league final: McKenna

THE barrier is going back up in front of Hill 16 for the Allianz Football League final after being temporarily 'decomissioned' for the Spring Series.

However, Croke Park chiefs have insisted the timing is not linked to Dublin's qualification for the Division One decider and the likelihood that they will attract a crowd well above the average for NFL finals.

"There's a window of opportunity between now and the league finals to put up the screen," stadium director Peter McKenna told the Evening Herald.

"It was always going to go up anyway (for the championship); that was always our intention and it's not a reflection of Dublin being in the final at all. Dublin are playing absolutely fantastic and to be in the final is brilliant news for everybody," he maintained.

Croke Park took the controversial call to erect a transparent 'people barrier' in front of the famous Hill terrace for the latter stages of the 2010 championship season.

For years, the GAA hierarchy had issued consistent pleas and warnings about the dangers inherent in spontaneous pitch invasions, but the final straw proved the angry scenes at the end of last July's Leinster SFC final.

Then, furious Louth fans raced onto the pitch (primarily from the Cusack Stand side, it should be noted, not Hill 16) to vent their fury at referee Martin Sludden for awarding Joe Sheridan's illegal match-winning goal for Meath.

The barrier made its big-match baptism for the All-Ireland SFC semi-final between Down and Kildare and, critically, prevented the chaotic invasions that usually follow the All-Ireland hurling and football finals.

While Croker's decision sparked memories of the ground's old and unloved fencing, along with emotive debate about 'human cages' and the Hillsborough disaster, the reality has been somewhat different. The new barrier is a see-through screen, 2.8 metres high. According to McKenna it was placed in storage for the winter months because it "won't tarnish nearly as quickly if it's out of the elements".

On the vexed question of how long it will remain, McKenna was non-committal other than to confirm it will stay up for the duration of the 2011 championships.

He expressed the hope that "over time it will be seen as not necessary", adding: "It would suit everybody if it didn't have to be there." However, the stadium chief stressed that the barrier won't go "until we are confident and comfortable that the safety issues have been addressed".

On that score, he cited an American Football colleges match played in Wisconsin during the 1990s -- when over 80 fans suffered injury - to illustrate the "devastating" consequences of a final whistle crowd surge gone wrong, even after a "fairly low-key, innocuous game"


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