Crowd restrictions will pose problems for the GAA from Croker to rural venues

Crowd restrictions will pose problems for the GAA from Croker to rural venues
Tadhg Donavan, chairman of Buttevant GAA Club, opens the gates to walkers at the club after walkways in clubs were reopened. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

ONE of several issues to be resolved before the return of competitive sports revolves around the roles of spectators.

Already soccer in Germany and horse racing in England since the weekend and here in Ireland since Monday are being played out behind closed doors, without fans or punters.

The English Premier League returns a week tonight and this, too, will go ahead in empty stadiums to be followed by Spain and Italy under the same constraints.

And those long-suffering and at times desperate fans of Leeds United will rejoice at the Championship resuming soon, too.

Word seeped through from Limerick towards the end of last week that they were planning to start their county senior hurling championship over the August weekend.

Then, Kerry announced live-streaming of their club games for a small fee, when their championships return, as well.

They were the early signs leading to Croke Park’s unveiling of their programme for a return to action which was made public last weekend.

Counties have been given the green light to play matches from Friday, July 31, though, as yet, there has been no word about people being able to attend because of Government restrictions on massed gatherings.

HSE guidelines will be watched and followed closely, particularly the two-metre social-distancing aspect.

A general view during a Bohemian FC training session at Dalymount Park in Dublin. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile
A general view during a Bohemian FC training session at Dalymount Park in Dublin. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

If this is not lifted in time for the return of football and hurling matches, then it’s going to place additional burdens on counties and clubs in their attempts to arrange fixtures.

How do you enforce social distancing at venues which have neither seating nor terraces?

And how are you going to stop people from turning up at games staged at rural venues, which are not as well sealed-off as others?

GAA president John Horan spoke on the topic about crowds at inter-county games specifically, when interviewed on Dublin club Na Fianna’s TV platform at the weekend.

He said Croke Park’s capacity would have to be reduced from its current 82,000 to just 21,000 if the two-metre rule remained in place.

But, if this was cut to one metre, then Croker could have 42,000 people in attendance at games.

If you were to apply the same criteria for Páirc Uí Chaoimh, which has a 45,000 capacity, then the upper limit would be around 10,000-11,000 for the two-metre rule or twice that should social distancing be cut to one metre.

The combined capacity for both North and South Stands is 21,000, more than sufficient to cater for club games, but would still require proper stewarding levels to ensure there were no breaches.

Unsurprisingly, there was no mention by Horan of club games and the impact on supporters wishing to attend.

Obviously, it will be left up to each county to determine the way forward once they are in tandem with Government thinking on crowd assemblies.

Big games in football and hurling featuring the main city clubs could easily be factored in at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on a multi-game programme, but with a list of stipulations.

For example, spectators could only attend one game and would have to exit the stadium before the cleaners move in and prepare the ground for the next game.

And it would be the same with dressingrooms and dug-outs.

Páirc Uí Rinn could be similarly used for a bunch of games under the same strict regulations, but the problems appear to be more difficult to overcome at certain country venues.

First and foremost though, counties and clubs will be getting their heads around fixtures and formats in the coming days, lurking in the background all the time the September 14 date of inter-county training returning.

Compromise is a word set to feature regularly.

Denis Sexton from Buttevant at the GAA club after walkways re-opened. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Denis Sexton from Buttevant at the GAA club after walkways re-opened. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

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