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Stadium stewards sent back to school to earn their bibs

Cliona Foley EVER suffered from 'maor-envy'? Ever looked at a steward's luminous jacket, thought about how they get to watch big matches for free and figured 'I could do that! Just give me a bib'? Well, from now on a bib will not be enough.

Only those who have passed a certified 'stadium steward's' course will be able to man the barricades at Croke Park in future as the increasingly professional GAA takes 'maor-ing' to new levels.

The GAA has joined forces with the IRFU and the FAI to produce a formal course to certify all volunteers who wear the stewards' bibs on big match days.

The course for 'sports stadium stewards' is being run by the Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) in Killester College, Dublin and also covers race-course officials.

The first block of 26 graduates - 70% from the GAA - will receive their historic certs from no less than the Taoiseach in Croke Park next Monday.

Many of them have been stewarding for years and all existing Croke Park 'maors' will have to complete the course, which Connacht Council is also keen to start.

Croke Park's Match Day Event Controller Seamus Ó Mídheach said it is not because of insurance or increased safety worries.

"Our stewarding needs have just changed radically in recent years," he said. "We now have matches on Saturdays and Sunday, much bigger attendances and new facilities, all of which make more demands on numbers and our customer care."

The certificate involves two days of lectures, a written exam and subsequent assessment at three separate matches before you get the bib. Fire safety, crowd behaviour and customer service are the major areas studied.

Ó Mídheach said Croke Park does not only take volunteers from Dublin clubs but also uses stewards from Laois and a group of 35 from Ulster once their championship is over.

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Croke Park also employs a professional security company but uses up to 400 voluntary stewards on big match days And in this new hi-tech age, smart cards and mobile phones are a vital part of their equipment.

They get a text on the Tuesday before a match asking them to confirm their availability and once this is established their personalised smart-cards are activated to allow them entry for that specific date, clocking in at 10.30am for a 2.30pm game. Ó Mídheach stresses that, contrary to the accepted myth, voluntary stewards are not paid.

"They do not get a penny. All they get is a cup of tea and a sandwich and only in the last year have they been given a match programme," he said. "Actually the most common question I am asked is 'why would you want to do it?'"

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