Joanne O’Riordan: GAA has a problem with disability - and they are not alone in this

The one issue that sticks out is basic access to GAA events for those with a disability

Austin Stack Park in Tralee, Co Kerry. Photograph: ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Sometimes I hate writing these articles because the last thing I want is for people to think I’m a negative Nelly. Given The Irish Times have allowed me their platform and raised my voice, I know that there are times these need to be written.

Like everyone last week, I read Colm O’ Regan’s piece on the GAA helping cultivate a more equal society through its actions, teachings, and the example it sets as an institution. It was a piece to be commended, and knowing Colm, I’m not surprised he was the male voice who took a stand.

The GAA, however, in my view, has another problem. This problem is how it treats those with a disability, either fans, administrators, wannabes like myself who want to be involved in all aspects, and those in between.

The one issue that sticks out in my mind is basic access. I’m literally talking about viewpoints for those in wheelchairs, parking on GAA grounds during intercounty games and the mere choice to wake up in the morning and just go to a game and not have it cost them a thought.


I remember waking up one weekend and telling my dad we would go to a game in Mallow, 20 minutes from our house. Templenoe were going well in the intermediate and were facing St Breckans of Clare. Like every spectator that day, we hopped in our car and drove down to Mallow GAA.

As we drove up to the gate, my father and I did our usual routine: hold up the blue disabled badge and wait for the typical conversation with the man in the yellow bib. The man in the yellow bib did not want to engage and waved on our car to park in a nearby field. Embarrassingly enough, as we were walking from field to pitch, a Garda controlling traffic asked why I was parked so far away. You’re going to a game, the last thing you want is having a Garda escort when your club isn’t even playing.

Whatever happened between my arrival and the game ending, the man in the bib tried to apologise, but things like that leave a sour taste. Not to toot my own horn, but there was possible panic as the realisation hit him that this could’ve been an article in The Irish Times.

Level best

On the flip side, on my trip back to Tralee to see if rumours of a Dublin collapse were, in fact, true, stewards watched on helpless and did their level best when they realised Austin Stacks GAA wheelchair section is not covered and those using a wheelchair were set to face whatever mother nature had in store. We were met with smiles, a willingness to help and general conversation.

One man on a scooter was victim to a triple soaking between the weather and two non-wheelchair users who stood on either side of him holding an umbrella. At least those not using a wheelchair had a choice, arrive early and protect themselves from the monsoon or arrive knowing what was ahead of them.

I don’t have that choice. Those who have a disability don’t have that choice. We need to contact various county boards for tickets, ring Ticketmaster and be on hold for hours if we can’t get to the county boards, and plan almost a week in advance how you’re going to get to a game.

In all honesty, it’s not good enough. While I disagree with the Premier League’s stance of proving you have a disability by submitting doctor’s reports, it’s a straightforward process once you are in for tickets.

The GAA is not alone in this. The FAI, IRFU, and other organisations have work to do in this area. With a bid for the Euros in 2028 between Ireland and the UK, these are the things that I hope are cleaned up by the time Uefa come around. When discussing things like transport, stadia, hospitality and everything needed to host a successful tournament, omitting almost an eighth of the population isn’t a success story.

I know there are very good people within these organisations trying to promote inclusion, and the GAA definitely have some of the best doers in the country. But doers isn’t enough. There needs to be joined-up thinking, policies in place and access officers within a provincial board and county board.

Kerry GAA were incredibly proactive in meeting those with a disability after Saturday’s game. That swiftness needs to be followed by action or, at the very least, a commitment to action. I’m realistic in knowing next time I go back to Austin Stacks, there won’t be a cover, and I know officers will have to be phased in. But now is the time for joined-up thinking, being proactive and actually assessing where to go next.