O’Neill: Ref jostling not on

Liam O’Neill said the GAA can’t afford a repeat of what happened to referee Joe McQuillan in Newbridge last Saturday night.

Despite a Garda escort, the Cavan official was jostled and heckled by supporters following Kildare’s third round qualifier defeat to Tyrone as he made his way to his changing room situated under the main stand.

The Association’s national safety workgroup had previously expressed reservations about the suitability of St Conleth’s Park for league and Championship games.

Its capacity has been reduced as a result of the Slattery audit report and O’Neill feels their work has been justified.

“It shouldn’t happen,” he said of Saturday’s incident. “There have been concerns and in fairness to our safety committee they have been very, very quick to point out where there are difficulties. They have expressed their views on certain venues and it shows that their attempts to put safety first have been totally justified.

“There will have to be a change because quite simply that can’t be allowed to happen again. It shouldn’t happen anywhere and we have to put in place whatever safety requirements to make sure that it doesn’t happen.”

On the subject of recent pitch invasions in Limerick, Castlebar and Clones, O’Neill said they confirmed people still want to get on the field of play to celebrate victories as much as the GAA frown upon it.

“Any time there’s a pitch invasion is like gambling; it’s like driving without a seatbelt. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. The ideal situation is the one we are promoting. You’re gambling, people’s safety is at stake.

“Make no mistake, if something ever happens people won’t say, ‘Wasn’t that man very foolish to go onto the pitch’; they’ll blame us. We have outlined what we think is best practice and we would like people to follow that. The players actually prefer to have the pitch to themselves.

“It’s an education process. There’s no mixed message and we don’t tolerate this (pitch invasions), but when a horde descend on a pitch it’s very hard to stop them.

“Our message on this is clear. There are certain commentators or people who say it’s a populist thing, and they should be let on. But they should know better. It’s not about taking draconian measures. It’s a ground by ground thing.”

The GAA’s stadium and commercial director Peter McKenna believes the bigger terraces in stadiums such as the Gaelic Grounds and St Tiernach’s Park compared to Croke Park make them more susceptible to pitch invasions.

While worrying, he acknowledged the risk of injury for player or patron is less at provincial grounds.

“Preventing pitch invasions as was seen in Croke Park is very difficult to do. Invasions in Croke Park always came from Hill 16 first and that’s where the big throng, the 13,500 people, came from and the rest of the stadium followed hence putting up the barrier there because of the sheer volume of people and the safety issue on Jones Road afterwards.

“At other grounds, when the capacities are lower and the pitch size isn’t different it becomes less of a major safety issue and more of a safety concern.”

Meanwhile, O’Neill expressed his delight at the rise in Championship attendances across the board with both senior competitions coming to life in recent weeks.

“We’re having a fantastic year. Who would have said 10 years ago that Galway would have been in Leinster and that they would lose to Dublin — it’s fairytale stuff.

“Dublin (hurlers) winning after 52 years, Limerick winning after 17 years, Monaghan winning after 25 years and London participating in their first provincial final — who would have said that would ever happen? It’s fantastic.

“People have been talking about the different configurations they would like to see in the All-Ireland Championship, four eights and so on, but where would you get the excitement the provincial finals engendered in people this year? Weather is luck and we are fortunate that the fine weather has helped attendances this summer. I think we have contributed to the feelgood factor in the country a bit as well. The games have been good, hurling particularly, and we have had some great upsets in football.”

Coming on the back of the London footballers’ fine summer, O’Neill revealed their home ground in Ruislip is set to get a face-lift.

“I suggested to them that I would love to see Ruislip to be revamped. We are ready to go with that, we approved funding for that at last Friday’s Management Committee meeting — the same weekend they were in their first Connacht final.

“It involves a substantial investment. The total project will cost over £4 million and will result in a ground that they can be proud of.

“The plans will be revealed when planning permission comes through, but we have given it the go-ahead.”


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