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One size doesn't fit all with thoughtless crowd limit of 200

Current restrictions look draconian and should definitely be reconsidered

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Keeping their distance: Supporters look on during the Kerry County SFC Group 2 Round 1 match between Kilcummin and Killarney Legion at Lewis Road in Killarney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Keeping their distance: Supporters look on during the Kerry County SFC Group 2 Round 1 match between Kilcummin and Killarney Legion at Lewis Road in Killarney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Keeping their distance: Supporters look on during the Kerry County SFC Group 2 Round 1 match between Kilcummin and Killarney Legion at Lewis Road in Killarney. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Perhaps former GAA president Seán Kelly put it best. Watching the images from Limerick's Gaelic Grounds, the MEP pointed out the absurdity of the situation. Namely, where a limit of 200 people was put on a game held at a stadium that can hold almost 45,000 under more normal circumstances.

"It makes absolutely no sense in a Stadium like #PáircnanGael @LimerickCLG, with a capacity of up to 45,000 to be empty for @KilmallockGAA v @NaPiarsaigh_CLG tonight.

"Restrictions need to be realistic and based on each ground's capacity," Kelly wrote on social media.

A similar scene was repeated at venues across the country. In Nenagh, where the All-Ireland club finalists Borris-Ileigh took on neighbours Toomevara in the first round of the Tipperary SHC, the set-up could hardly be more conducive to social distancing with a generous stand and banks on the other three sides.

Togged

There were ample officials on duty and hand sanitising stations dotted around the ground, along with a realisation from those present that they had to obey the protocols. Everyone there felt lucky to have games back again. And if they had to go along to get along, then that's what they were going to do.

On the day both sides arrived togged out and outside the main pitch there was an area to warm up along with ample parking. The 200 limit was strictly adhered too with gardaí on duty to ensure everyone was operating within the confines of the advice.

It was a perfect day for a local tussle, one that would have attracted interest from well beyond the confines of the two clubs involved. Afterwards, Toome' warmed down and had their post-match debrief on the pitch. Borris' manager Johnny Kelly spoke to his side just outside the main gate and afterwards reflected on the "strange" experience that is championship hurling in Covid times.

"It is a strange environment, match day is strange," Kelly said. "Because you are used to the banter and used to a certain way of preparing and there's no use of dressing-rooms. But that's for everyone, it's something new and something we have to get our head around."

The game ended in a draw, a long-range Joey McLoughney free securing a share of the spoils for Eoin Brislane's Toomevara men.

And while there were three cameras at the match, one of them streaming the game for Tipperary GAA's website for those who couldn't secure a ticket, there was a feeling that there was an opportunity lost.

Throughout the ground in Nenagh, there were swathes of open spaces. Many more could have been accommodated without putting anyone at risk.

In truth, the limit of 200 looked silly in that context, something that was magnified by the amusing sight of two supporters watching the game from a neighbouring property thanks to a cherry picker and some innovative thinking.

To make it even more bizarre, had the teams played just a few hours up the road in the north, 400 would have been allowed into the match.

It's something that has animated the GAA. As an organisation, they have taken a conservative approach to a return to play but president John Horan wasn't shy about calling for more wriggle room.

Survive

"The change in attendance guidelines has delivered a hammer blow to the organisation," Horan said.

"We put the return to the club game first to benefit our members and help out county boards survive for those clubs but our county boards were relying on an increase to 500 as a way of being able to cater for the demand on the ground from our supporters.

"All we are trying to do is get people to be active outside and there is a pent-up demand for people to go to these matches," Horan continued.

"I don't think by calling for an increase from 200 to 500 that I'm putting public health or anybody at risk."

Horan estimated that by the time players, management and officials were catered for, there would be little more than 120 supporters at any one match. At some venues, there may be neither the space nor the demand for more tickets but there is room for manoeuvre.

The next phase of reopening will allow for gatherings of up to 500 outdoors but perhaps there is space for nuance and a tailoring of attendances depending on the venue.

The rule that applies to a small club venue should not be the rule that applies to the Gaelic Grounds, for example. And the rule that applies to the Gaelic Grounds should not be in play at Croke Park.

In this case, one size doesn't fit all.

Irish Independent