Friday 20 April 2018

Will putting up a 9ft 1in high fence really solve dilemma of Croker pitch invasions?

So, what’s the problem?

THE GAA are at pains to point out that the tradition of post-match pitch invasions cannot continue on health and safety grounds and they will install barriers at the Hill 16 end of Croke Park ahead of the second All- Ireland football semi-final between Down and Kildare on August 29.

A brief GAA release issued on Saturday stated that “in response to increasing concerns regarding spectator safety” the Central Council had recommended that the barrier in front of the Hill end be raised to 2.8m (approximately 9ft).

Some of the GAA’s top brass held a press conference at Croke Park on Sunday between the minor and senior games to elaborate on the issue.

Pitch invasions have been around for ages, why are these steps being taken now?

The GAA have undertaken a massive PR campaign in the last year to get their message across. At this year’s Congress, delegates were shown a presentation on the dangers of pitch invasions while players’ testimonies have appeared in championship match programmes which back up the GAA’s stance.

Until recently, Croke Park’s stated position was that such barriers were a “last resort”, but the aftermath of this year’s Leinster football final sparked a rethink, as was acknowledged in Saturday’s statement.

After Meath’s controversial win over Louth, Tyrone referee Martin Sludden was attacked by a number of patrons who had made their way on to the pitch. However, Saturday’s announcement caught most people off guard and only comes into effect for the last three major games of the season.

Won’t that affect the view of the action from the Hill?

In a word, yes, but the view for the majority will remain unaffected. Croke Park Stadium Director Peter McKenna has stated that the majority of the new fence will be made of material similar to the netting behind the goal at either end which, according to McKenna, gives patrons a “reasonable sight-line through it”.

Any other reasons?

Health and safety are the primary concerns but in the run-up to last year’s All-Ireland hurling final, the GAA appealed to supporters to stay off the pitch and they acknowledged at the time that they were relying on the good will of patrons. Those appeals fell on deaf ears when Kilkenny won their fourth successive All-Ireland title after an epic final, meaning the association had to abandon plans for an on-field presentation that involved President Mary McAleese, which helped to prompt the latest measures.

The GAA also cited damage to the playing surface caused by an invasion as a concern and the cost of claims against the association which, at the time, ran close to €500,000.

McKenna also expressed concerns that the Jones’ Road exit was operating above capacity when supporters dispersed.

Why only on the Hill end?

Croke Park authorities insist that all their evidence states that invasions start from the Hill 16 end and that they are able to control breaks in other sides of the pitch.

The GAA will continue to fence off the first four rows of seats for some games but for sold-out matches, like the All-Ireland finals, those same seats will be distributed among noncompeting counties which the GAA hope will help limit the chances of a break from any of the other three sides.

However, that plan assumes that neutrals will not want to get on the pitch after All-Ireland finals, which is debatable, while such tickets can easily fall into the hands of supporters from competing counties.

Have there always been pitch invasions?

No. There were on-field trophy presentations when Croke Park was being redeveloped. However, that idea was abandoned when Armagh won their breakthrough All-Ireland in 2002 and the traditional pitch invasions have prevailed since.

How come it doesn’t happen at other sporting venues worldwide?

The GAA’s top brass have acknowledged that they are trying to break a long-standing tradition which isn’t prevalent in other sporting bodies worldwide. However, in several other countries there is legislation that makes pitch invasions illegal. Similar

laws don’t exist here but they are in the pipeline and McKenna is keen for that to be rushed through, which would give them a greater chance of ending the invasions.

So when will the new system be tested?

The new fencing will be installed before Kildare’s clash with Down on August 29 and that game is unlikely to sell out. The system will not be in place for Dublin’s football semi-final clash with Cork a week earlier, which means the new system avoids a baptism of fire.

However, there are big tests further down the line. A Liam McCarthy Cup success for a history-chasing Kilkenny, Tipperary or Waterford will spark a huge outpouring of emotion while a football title for any of the four teams remaining in the race for Sam Maguire (Kildare, Down, Cork, Dublin) would also be a significant landmark which, as shown when Armagh won their first All-Ireland, increases the likelihood of an invasion

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