PITCH invasions at the final whistle of All-Ireland finals must become a thing of the past before tragedy strikes, the chairman of the GAA’s games presentation committee has warned.
Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, former Armagh star Jarlath Burns hit back at criticism of the failed attempt to move the presentation of the Liam MacCarthy Cup from the Hogan Stand to the Croke Park pitch, following last Sunday’s All-Ireland final.
Despite appeals beforehand to Kilkenny and Tipperary supporters not to encroach onto the pitch, crowds broke past security personnel, causing panic and forcing organisers to move the presentation to the Hogan Stand.
Former GAA president Sean Kelly criticised the move in this newspaper earlier this week, claiming the plan “blew up in their faces” and that more consultation was needed before changing a long-standing tradition.
However, Burns has claimed there is a “big price” to pay for continuing the tradition, highlighting safety concerns and the financial cost of the damage to the Croke Park pitch.
“(There was) a dangerous, chaotic, uncontrollable mess of people spilling out onto the field,” he said.
“One man with three young children had to be pulled out of the crush to avoid possible death.
“We have been told we will never change this ‘tradition’. But we will. After someone gets crushed to death, or a player sustains a broken jaw, or someone falls from the Hogan Upper Deck, we’ll change it.’’
He added: “It comes at a financial price at the moment. It’s only a matter of time before the price we pay is much higher. And then it’ll change. But it will be too late then.”
He added that Croke Park pitch invasions cost around €500,000 in claims every year.
“We seem to be so giddy at the thought of getting onto the pitch that we appear prepared to suffer that consequence,” claimed Burns.
“From a field perspective, one invasion is equivalent to about six matches in-a-row.”
Burns also pointed to “pitiful” assaults on Kerry stars Darragh O Sé and Colm Cooper by supporters in recent years as further reason to scrap the pitch invasion tradition.
“It’s all very easy when you’re the winning team, but the losers are in serious danger in the moments following the end of the match,” he said.
“Is this the way to treat lads who have just played their hearts out and are lying with shattered dreams on the grass of Croke Park?”
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