CROKE PARK stadium director Peter McKenna has promised that there will be wholesale review of the venue’s security operation after referee Martin Sludden was physically assaulted by spectators after yesterday’s Leinster final.
The Tyrone official earlier awarded one of the most controversial goals ever seen in the history of the championship when allowing Joe Sheridan’s injury-time effort to stand and the result was pure bedlam.
Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick, as well as two of his players, made their way over to Sludden to remonstrate with his decision to allow the score after the final whistle but the situation quickly turned ugly.
Fitzpatrick then found himself trying to defend Sludden from a minority of seething Louth fans, some of whom jostled the referee who also appeared to be targeted with missiles from the stands.
Sludden was eventually chaperoned off the pitch by a mixture of gardaí and stewards — one of whom was felled by a plastic bottle to the head — but it had taken an unfeasibly long time for the match official to receive any assistance.
“If we are remiss there I would certainly review it,” said McKenna. “In any issue like this it does beg itself to be reviewed properly and to go through on it. If there is a pitch invasion we are in a contingency scenario. So all the best laid plans will change, will alter. I think that the gardaí and stewards were there in a reasonable timeframe but I say that without having studied the video. I’d prefer to study that in a little more detail and come back to you.”
McKenna described Sludden as being “fairly shaken” when he finally reached the sanctity of a private room after the incident and added that the steward hit by the bottle received medical attention.
The TV footage was downloaded from RTÉ within minutes of happening and Croke Park will trawl through the evidence in detail today in the hope of identifying those responsible.
“I don’t know will we actually catch faces on that but if we did, we certainly would. There are areas here where you are moving from unacceptable behaviour to antisocial behaviour, which may require us to take prosecutions.
“I always think in situations like this you are far better to dispense justice with a degree of grace to it. I think people are going to be anxious to come with a quick response. We need to study it and see what is the best line to take. But there is no place in any match or any ground or any street in Dublin or Ireland for that matter of people throwing bottles. When you have a volunteer stretched because he got hit on the head with a bottle, it’s an appalling day.”
McKenna also expects the gardaí to launch their own investigation and, whatever the outcome to all those deliberations, yesterday’s unsavoury events may well prompt a radical sea change in how fans watch future games in Croke Park.
The GAA has been warning all and sundry about the dangers of pitch invasions — Plan B was invoked yet again yesterday — and drastic measures may now be taken to prevent a repeat. Education has been the association’s preferred weapon up until now but legislation which would make any incursion onto the pitch a criminal offence may not be far away.
“That would certainly be a reaction from today’s incident,” said McKenna. “You would hope we can avoid that but it seems to be more and more inevitable. What happened there today in any language is not right.”
Another option open to the GAA authorities would be to erect perimeter fencing. “What we have at the moment is not pretty and doesn’t look great. We have to look at all options. Fencing is one of them. Fencing, legislation, all of these things will come to the fore now.
“A ref has been jostled and had to be taken off the pitch by a garda. That is not where we want to have our games and a steward here on a volunteer basis is stretchered. That’s absolutely where we don’t want our games.
“It’s beholden of all of us to reflect on this over the next couple of days and come up with something which is rational, but properly responsive to the problem we see here.”
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