Return of spectators to sport will come with strict guidelines

Croke Park could see a limited crowd for Division 1 decider depending on semi-final outcomes

There will be a Division 1 final at Croke Park if Tyrone and Dublin come through this weekend’s semi-finals in the Allianz League. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

There will be a Division 1 final at Croke Park if Tyrone and Dublin come through this weekend’s semi-finals in the Allianz League. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

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Croke Park is lined up to stage one of the first pilot GAA events later this month, depending on the outcome of this weekend’s division one semi-finals of the Allianz Football League.

If, as agreed, any of the competing finalists across all four divisions are out in the championship the weekend after the scheduled dates for the finals, June 19th/20th, then no such final will take place; this has already ruled out the playing of a Division 2 and Division 4 final.

There is still the prospect of an appetising Division 1 final: Kerry play Tyrone at Fitzgerald Stadium (5pm) on Saturday, before Donegal take on Dublin, at Kingspan Breffni Park (7.15pm). And if Tyrone and Dublin both progress then the final will be played on that weekend 19th/20th at Croke Park, with limited crowds in attendance similar to a number of other pilot events announced by the Government. However, if Kerry or Donegal make the final it won’t be played as they are both out the following week in the championship.

It’s already agreed the Camogie National League finals will take place at Croke Park on June 20th, before the women’s National League Division 1 and 2 finals at Croke Park on Saturday, June 26th.

The other designated GAA pilot events are the Munster SHC semi-final between Cork and Limerick at Semple Stadium (July 3rd) and the Connacht SFC meeting between Roscommon and Galway at Dr Hyde Park, Roscommon the following day.

The first of the pilot events will take place this Friday, with 1,200 fans attending the Leinster against Dragons rugby match at the RDS. Two League of Ireland games will also feature, with 1,000 at the clash between Finn Harps and Shamrock Rovers in Tallaght Stadium and 600 at Turner’s Cross for the Cork City versus Cabinteely game.

Other events outside the pilot scheme will also return, where 100 attendees can go to matches in smaller venues, with that number rising to 200 at venues which can hold more than 5,000.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, junior sports minister Jack Chambers said there is scope to increase those numbers, but that masks, social distancing and contract tracing measures will all be in place for fans returning to sporting events for the next number of weeks.

Capacity at the games will steadily increase from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent, to 33 per cent, with the aim of reaching 50 per cent by the autumn. “There’s no ceiling around ambition here,” said Chambers. “With the vaccination rollout and the vaccination effect proceeding across society there’s a suppression effect there.

“We want to see as many spectators return as quickly as possible for League of Ireland games that are rolling through the summer, for the All Ireland series, ladies’ football and camogie. We’re ambitious around that and that’s why we’re doing the pilots, to get the logistics and the systems right so we can then expand capacity through the summer.

Despite events taking place outdoors, fans will still be required to wear masks and socially distance.

“It will be different but people are used to wearing masks, they’re used to the last year of Covid,” the Minister said.

“That could evolve and change as we see this significant increase in vaccination.

Chambers also said a “new type of fan journey” will see staggered entry and exit times, as well as a new code of conduct for ticket holders. Allocation of tickers will be a matter for individual sporting organisations.

The contact tracing process will also remain in place, with HSE able to contact the event organiser and access the information and discover who was sitting around that particular person should they test positive.

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