IT didn’t take long last year, just a few minutes after the final whistle and with the masses already breaking onto the sacred sod, before the announcement blared over the Croke Park tannoy system – ‘Gardaí and stewards, to Plan B please, Plan B!’.
Plan A, of course, was to have a very orderly presentation of the Liam MacCarthy Cup to Kilkenny captain Michael Fennelly on a quickly-assembled raised platform in the middle of the pitch, where everyone in the surrounding stands would have almost an equal view of proceedings before the victorious Kilkenny team would undertake a lap of honour, saluting – and being saluted by – the serried ranks of their supporters in the stands and on Hill 16.
Then came the charge of the black-and-amber brigade.
This year there’s been a new system of crowd control in place in Croke Park. Up to a few weeks ago, and for non-sellout games, it involved draping orange plastic mesh over the first three rows of seats in all the stand areas, which meant that the stewards could then concentrate their containment efforts on the stairways, making it much easier to prevent the dreaded pitch invasion.
That doesn’t apply Sunday, of course – such is the eagerness to see history being made or history denied, as Kilkenny go for the five in a row, this game could have sold out twice over, so those first three rows will all be occupied.
There is another change, however, and a contentious change it is – Hill 16 has been barricaded off from the pitch, a new barrier of Perspex added after the Cork/Dublin All-Ireland SFC semi-final. The thinking behind that decision wasn’t meant to be in any way elitist, that those in the ‘cheap’ area, the terraces of Hill 16, deserve lesser treatment than those in the seats, that unlike everyone else, they need to be penned in. Still, though, that is the net effect – those on the Hill are being treated differently.
The drive by the current administration of the GAA, and by those charged with running Croke Park especially, to end the age-old GAA practice of pitch invasions, is based on what they see as a need to protect the greater common good. They say, it’s a recipe for disaster, an accident waiting to happen, and then what? How much does the GAA as an organisation stand to lose in reputation alone, never mind the financial cost? It’s a solid argument, but there are also those (this writer included) who believe that adding a barrier, even if it’s confined to just one section of the stadium only adds to the potential problems.
Will the barrier work? The logic behind confining it to the Hill is that research has shown that it’s from there the first charge on to the pitch always comes; I believe, however, that this is simply because the Hill offers the easiest mass route to the pitch. I mean, do you really think the people in the stands were watching those on the Hill, waiting to take their cue from what happened there?
If Kilkenny win, and create history, do you think the Kilkenny supporters in the stands will be held back?
If Tipperary deny them, end a decade of frustration, do you think the blue-and-gold hordes in the stands will stay politely in their seats? Not a chance.
‘Gardaí and stewards, end-of-match positions please,’ will be an early signal to the players on the pitch that the match is nearing its conclusion; it will also be a signal to the supporters to get ready for the invasion. You think then that those in the Hill, seeing those from the stands hit the field, will stay behind the barriers? There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding events on Sunday, but of one thing I’m certain – ‘Gardaí and stewards, Plan B please, Plan B.’
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