Cooney: Hill 16 fence option a 'last resort'
GAA president Christy Cooney has described the decision to fence off Hill 16 to prevent pitch invasions in Croke Park after All-Ireland finals as "a last resort," but warned that it may be extended all around the ground if the latest plan fails.
Barriers extending to 2.8 metres in height will be erected in front of Hill 16 before the end of August, but Cooney and stadium director Peter McKenna insist that they will not impact on the view from the terrace. Gates, which can be opened instantly in the event of an emergency, will be fitted to the barriers.
"We didn't want to have to do this, but we're left with no other option. For the safety of players, officials and patrons this has become necessary," said Cooney.
He said that the GAA were hopeful that fencing off Hill 16 would solve the problem of pitch invasions because that is usually where the first breaks have come from when attempts were made to keep the pitch clear in previous years.
However, if pitch invasions emanate from the stands, it may become necessary to erect barriers all around Croke Park.
In order to reduce the opportunities for people from the stands to enter the pitch, the first few rows of seats all around the ground will be allocated to counties who are not competing in the finals on the basis that they are less likely to want to join in the celebrations.
Cooney said that in addition to the risk of injury when anything up 30,000 people dash onto the pitch, problems arise when they attempt to leave the ground through the Hogan Stand and pour out onto Jones's Road. It leads to severe congestion and would hamper the arrival of emergency services in the event of an accident.
"We want people to exit the stadium by the way they came in. We had a very dangerous situation on Jones' Road after last year's All-Ireland finals. What we're doing here is all about safety," he said.
McKenna said that the GAA were taking this decision of their own volition and, if they hadn't, it could have been forced on them by the safety authorities.
In that case, the restrictions would probably be much more severe and might even include a reduced capacity.
Cooney also revealed that the GAA had written to the Government regarding the possibility of introducing legislation making it an offence for supporters to enter the pitch area. This applies in several other countries and is an extremely effective deterrent.