When it comes to the day of a big GAA fixture, this columnist considers himself quite fortunate.
Strolling up to a turnstile or gate marked ‘official passes/media,’ I produce my credentials and proceed in a relaxed, stress-free manner to my press box perch.
Roughly an hour before Michael Haverty got the Waterford/Offaly game underway at Semple Stadium last Saturday; the queues of fans trying to get into the O’Riain Stand were already considerable.
And they weren’t moving anywhere fast: for this is, was and always will be what happens when you take cash at the gate. More on that anon.
At a gate clearly designated for fans with special needs, I saw a Galway fan in a wheelchair being told by a bibbed steward that he was, in fact, at the wrong entrance.
Inside the gate, words were being had between a group of supporters and another steward who, for reasons unknown to me, was on the receiving end of an almighty tongue lashing.
“Let them in for God’s sake,” the woman roared at the steward, presumably talking about children she knew outside.
“Someone open that gate,” added another voice, which someone, without the authority to do so, duly did.
A group of 20 to 30 people barged their way in, while one man, who, quite disgracefully tried to hurdle the wheelchaired supporter, thankfully failed in his bid.
“For God’s sake, have you any shame,” an aghast person queuing nearby was prompted to comment towards a man whose lack of consideration for a fellow human being was quite breathtaking.
The gate was forced shut while a man who accompanied the wheelchair occupant then enquired to the steward where then both he and his friend could actually access the ground.
“Sure there’s no point asking me,” said the steward, whom, it must be said, wasn’t in the least bit haughty in delivering his reply. “I’m only up from Cork for the day.”
Nice man and all that he appeared to be, he shouldn’t have been standing there if he wasn’t even capable of tilting himself 90 degrees to establish that he was manning a gate clearly marked for people with special needs.
It was a demonstration of crass incompetence. Mind you, it paled in comparison to the sight of a grown man trying to jump over a person in a wheelchair in an attempt to gain free access to the match.
Thinking that this was already too much drama before a ball had even been pucked, little did I think there’d be further incident before the afternoon’s action got underway.
As we know, there were no tickets required to attend Saturday’s hurling double-header, which was a huge mistake, creating the overflow in the O’Riain Stand which led to the spillage of fans onto the pitch.
When you have ticketed matches, matters such as who sits where, how many people can pass through a turnstile or go into an individual section are automatically catered for.
And without that mechanism in place, one crates a vacuum in which disaster can lurk. And it has been completely by accident, rather than any Croke Park-sanctioned design, that we haven’t had a Hillsborough-type disaster on a big championship day.
Am I being sensationalist? Not for a second. I stood in a crush outside Croke Park itself a few years ago when the powers that be decided to open only a handful of turnstiles on Club Final day. It’s an experience I never want to go through again.
When it comes to addressing the fundamentals of crowd marshalling and safety, the GAA seems consistently intent on shooting itself in the foot. After all, prevention is surely better than cure