McKenna reiterates warning on fencing

Tue, Jul 6, 2010, 01:00

CROKE PARK is taking measures to address the problem of pitch invasions, including the implementation of a cordon at the front of the stands. This would mean circulating the tickets for the front seats to neutral counties for All-Ireland finals.

This is because the idea as implemented at Sunday’s Leinster hurling final and planned for next Sunday’s provincial football final involves leaving the front rows empty and that would not be possible at All-Ireland finals as the matches attract capacity crowds.

“We won’t be able to use those seats in All-Ireland finals,” according to stadium director Peter McKenna who also reiterated last year’s warning fencing on the Hill 16 terrace might ultimately be necessary. “But All-Ireland finals are national occasions so there are many supporters from neutral counties not involved on the day and we are looking at allocating those seats to non-competing counties. We are looking for something to help break the habit of crowd invasion.”

The dangers of the practice have been highlighted in recent years and at last April’s annual congress a presentation urging an education campaign to prevent pitch invasions and position trophy presentations on the field was overwhelmingly endorsed.

But so far there has been no move to implement the policy at venues hosting provincial finals, as the attempted on-field presentation didn’t work in last year’s All-Ireland hurling final with crowds forcing their way on to the pitch.

Last Sunday, saw Kilkenny retain their provincial title against Galway without problems but a county winning a sixth successive provincial title is unlike to spark the same reaction as next weekend when Meath, for the first time in nine years, or Louth, for the first time in 50, will raise the Leinster football trophy.

“I think the measures on Sunday were successful. People didn’t come in on the surface and it worked well. What we’ll do this Sunday will be similar to what we did the Sunday just gone – keep the presentation of the trophy in the stand and block off the first couple of rows of seats all of the way around, which means it’s less easy for crowds to get onto the pitch surface.

“We’ve continued to get our message across that pitch invasions are inherently dangerous. This has been flagged in Páraic’s (Duffy, GAA director general) report this year and the year before and in the video presentation at congress in April. These things haven’t changed and we’re appealing to people not to spoil what is a day out.

“If a pitch invasion does happen we just hope to be able to contain it and make sure nobody does get hurt. We then have to revise our plans and move to the next stage, which may involve putting fences up and stuff like that.

“There’s been tremendous support from the GPA (Gaelic Players Association) whose members would like to be able to warm down and absorb the moment or come to terms with defeat and it’s important to be able to do that in an unencumbered way.”

Whereas the misbehaviour can be more controlled in the seated areas, the invasions at Croke Park generally originate from Hill 16.

“We are trying to deal with that through persuasion and deploying extra stewards,” said McKenna. “Then we are looking at gradually raising the deterrent if we can’t get the persuasive message across.

“We have a compelling video presentation and the support of many members and players, but if that doesn’t work we have to adjust our response in a graduated way even if we’re trying to avoid the draconian response.

“This isn’t just me saying this. The policy was adopted by congress, has the full support of the president and is being endorsed and promoted by a trustee of the association, Con Hogan.”

He also said he would prefer if the search for a solution didn’t have to extend to seeking legislation, such as exists in other countries, to curb the problem, which would involve gardaí having to arrest those breaking the law.

“At all times when dealing with a crowd dynamic you want to avoid confrontation because it can escalate very quickly.

“I would, however, take the view that such legislation is a bit like speeding fines. You’re never going to catch everybody, but by catching one or two and publicising it you deter everybody else . . . I’d love to avoid legislation because I think as a people we don’t respond well to regulation and I’d be hoping the power of persuasion would ultimately convince everyone this is important.”