GAA crowd control - Third warning means habits must change

MORE than 100,000 people attended various GAA matches over the weekend confirming the pre-eminent position of Gaelic games in our culture.

The biggest crowd was at Croke Park where 56,496 people saw Dublin beat Louth in the Leinster football championship and, in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, 42,853 people saw Tipperary beat Cork in the Munster Championship — in Cork for the first time in 86 years.

This win represents a milestone for Tipperary hurling but the game could have been remembered for far more tragic reasons but for the quick and decisive intervention of gardaí and crowd control stewards.

Just before the game began pitch-side barriers had to be opened to allow about 400 fans — including many children — onto the goal-line to relieve crowd congestion at the Blackrock end of the ground.

This is not the first time that such incidents have occurred at the stadium.

Three years ago, when Cork and Tipperary met in the 2005 Munster final, supporters also used the sidelines to avoid being crushed in the crowd.

Four years earlier, during a game between Waterford and Limerick, terraces were evacuated because of potentially dangerous crowd pressure. Though GAA officials have ordered an immediate investigation rather more reassurance is needed.

Because of the nature of the GAA championship stadium staff may not have the opportunities to quickly develop the level of crowd control skills we all would wish. GAA stadiums — except Croke Park — are not full often enough to provide that experience compared with, say, an English Premier League venue that may have a full house 20 times a season.

There is, of course, the mindset of GAA supporters, far too many of whom arrive at the grounds just minutes before the ball is thrown in.

This leads to a situation that would challenge the slickest stadium managers and is the root cause of the three incidents at Páirc Uí Chaoimh. This is confirmed by the fact that the terraces that had to be evacuated on Sunday, which had become dangerous because of a bottleneck, were not full.

The pre-match distractions on the day of a Munster hurling championship match can be seductive but if they lead to the potential for chaos as was seen on Sunday they may no longer be an option.

Soccer has already had its great tragedies at Hillsborough — April 15, 1989, 96 dead — and at Heysel Stadium in Brussels — May 29, 1985, 39 dead — and though events at Páirc Uí Chaoimh do not in any way compare to those disasters there have been three occasions in recent years when Páirc Uí Chaoimh could not cope with the demands of the crowd.

We have had three warnings and the GAA and the gardaí have done as much as can be expected. It may be time for fans to change their match-day habits.

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