GAA say fencing would be last resort


THEY WON’T be calling in the fencing companies just yet, but the GAA have renewed their determination to end the enduring threat of pitch invasions.

Extra stewarding and gardaí protection for match referees is set to be introduced with immediate effect, although legislation whereby gardaí can arrest those who invade the pitch now appears an inevitable consequence of the ugly and unacceptable climax to Sunday’s Leinster football final.

So far the GAA and Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna have been hesitant in pressing for legislation, although it has been discussed with the Government.

That remains so, but unless they are successful in convincing spectators the only people with any business on the field are the players and the match officials then, ultimately, legislation will be pursued.

The so-called fencing option, where the entire pitch would effectively be fenced off from the crowd, is still seen as creating potential problems of a different sort, namely crushing.

GAA and stadium officials met in Croke Park yesterday in the aftermath of the Louth-Meath incidents, and according to GAA press officer Alan Milton, there is a unanimous feeling something has to change.

“You won’t see fencing going up in Croke Park this weekend, no,” said Milton, “but this is now a very live issue for us.

“If we can’t move on from here, we might never. If ever any one incident crystallised why we want to end pitch invasions then Sunday was it. It’s a serious blight on our games. People say it’s a great tradition, but to quote Peter McKenna, Woodbines were a great tradition, too, and they killed a lot of people. Tradition is no excuse.

“I know people are talking about fencing. But fencing is not something we want to look at. That’s the last resort. If you have serious amount of people that want to get on a field that’s when health and safety kicks in. You can’t hold back even a few hundred people, because that’s when crushing begins.

“And that’s the fear with fencing. What we may ultimately need is legislation. If you go on the field in Australia you’re fined, AS$6,000 (€4,160). And people don’t go on the field.

“But what happened on Sunday will definitely influence the wider issue of ending pitch invasions. We saw in black and white what happens when people are allowed enter the field of play, the potential for chaos.”

Legislation, naturally, takes time, and isn’t an option for 2010. What the GAA are concerned about for the immediate future is how to ensure what happened last Sunday doesn’t happen again.

“The issue of most pressing concern is how the referee leaves the field of play,” said Milton. “We accept that could have been dealt with better on Sunday. But at the same time he was dealing with an incident, booking a player, and that’s what hindered his departure.

“But I think for future fixtures there will be a contingency plan, where there are more gardai around.

“When we met this morning, it was the first thing on our agenda, obviously. First and foremost we obtained the match videos from RTÉ, and they’ve been passed on to the gardaí. They’ll start their own investigation. What happened was extremely disappointing, in a year we launched our Respect initiative. It looked terrible.”

McKenna declined to comment in detail on what he believes is the best course of action following Sunday’s incidents: “We have so many issues here,” he said. “Assault, potential charges arising from that, replay decision. A whole raft of activity. So we’re coordinating all comments on this through the GAA.”

Even if the GAA are stop spectators getting on to the pitch, there will always be the threat of missiles such as bottles or cans being thrown from the stands – like the one that hit the head of a steward under the corner of the Davin Stand on Sunday.

“He was a voluntary steward, from Laois,” explained Milton. “It was a plastic bottle, and thankfully he wasn’t badly injured, wasn’t hospitalised. He was badly shook, as was the referee.”