GAA hopeful 40,000 will be at Croke Park for All-Ireland finals

Weekend’s pilot events include Roscommon against Galway and Munster hurling semi

The GAA is hopeful 40,000 could attend this year’s All-Ireland finals. Photograph: Inpho

The GAA is hopeful 40,000 could attend this year’s All-Ireland finals. Photograph: Inpho

 

The GAA is hopeful that if its various pilot projects prove successful, August’s All-Ireland finals can be authorised for attendances of up to 40,000.

Speaking in the context of Wednesday’s decision by Government to bring forward by 48 hours the revised limit of 500 for matches to this weekend, Croke Park stadium director Peter McKenna said that the success of pilot events like Saturday’s Leinster hurling semi-finals could help to “create a real sense of security”.

As part of the joint-GAA-IRFU-FAI Working Group, which has looked at developing plans for the safe return of spectators to sport, McKenna says that the body meets every Monday after various pilot events to “pool the information on what worked and didn’t work”.

“What we’re hoping for is a graduated escalation in numbers. I would hope that by the time we get to All-Ireland finals you’d be looking at 40,000. That’s a real aspiration even if we have a long way to go to get to that.”

It was announced earlier in the week that Leinster GAA had moved the matches from Portlaoise, as they had been cleared for an attendance of 8,000, which will be the largest crowd at sporting event since the pandemic began in February of last year.

It is hoped that if the weekend pilot goes to plan that limits could in the coming weeks be raised to between 12,000 and 15,000 - the maximum in keeping with two metres’ social distancing and if that proves successful, to move to percentage of stadium capacity.

If the All-Irelands were played in front of 40,000 or more or less 50 per cent of capacity and the public health environment continued to improve, it is hoped that by later in the year, there might be full houses for the autumn rugby internationals.

“It will still look pretty cavernous,” he said of Saturday’s event, “but the whole point of pilots is really to see are there any issues that we hadn’t anticipated and on the other side, concerns from the Department of Health concerning the virulence of the delta variant.”

McKenna also confirmed that for the first time since the pandemic began, the premium level at Croke Park will be in use for “a small number of about 500”. This was an easy decision in that the premium seats have different access and egress point to the rest of the stadium.

News that the Government has relaxed limits on spectators at outdoor sports from the coming Saturday instead of next Monday was welcome.

It means that in venues with a capacity of 5,000 or more, 500 spectators will be allowed to attend - an increase of 300 on what has been in place to date. Venues with a smaller capacity will see a doubling of permitted crowds from 100 to 200.

The coming weekend is a very busy one for GAA championship fixtures with football championship action in Connacht, Leinster and Ulster and hurling championship semi-finals in Leinster and Munster. There also fixtures in hurling’s McDonagh, Ring, Rackard and Meagher Cups.

The move comes too early for Friday night’s All-Ireland minor semi-final between Limerick and Galway in Ennis, which will be subject to the old limit.

Other pilot events this weekend are the Connacht football semi-final between Roscommon and Galway at Dr Hyde Park, which will have 1,049 in attendance and the Munster hurling semi-final between Limerick and Cork on Saturday evening, which can be attended by 2,400.

In Ulster, where the 500 limit had already been in force, it means that Saturday’s Monaghan-Fermanagh quarter-final will now have the same capacity as Antrim and Armagh on Sunday.

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