Croke Park could host as many as 42,000 fans for Championship hurling and football games later in the year according to GAA President John Horan as Irish sport begins to benefit from the government’s decision to ease the restrictions imposed when Ireland went into COVID-19 lockdown in March.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Sport Shane Ross announced a series of measures last weekend that will allow elite athletes to return to training, while groups of 15 can now train together in team sports but without competition.
The GAA had announced on Friday before the government decision was made public, that it will resume club activities at the end of June and county fare in October behind closed doors.
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But like the IRFU which wants fans at inter-provincial games in the Aviva Stadium later this year, the GAA will push for clearance to allow fans to attend games with social distancing restrictions in place.
Horan explained, “We’ve already worked it out that if the government allow larger crowds to gather, over the 5,000 that they currently have, we could probably put 21,000 into Croke Park safely.
“The operations team in Croke Park have mapped it out. That blue mesh that is used in Croke Park would be used to block off seats but we feel that we could safely get a crowd of 21,000 into Croke Park.
“It would cause practicalities in terms of there’d be an element of lottery for tickets. Premium ticket holders would probably have to get a credit into the following year and just do a lottery on the tickets that are actually there available for games going forward.
“Until social distancing is scaled back, we just won’t be able to pack Croke Park, it is our intention to get it open and get it going once the inter-county games start. If it goes back to one meter, we’ll be able to double the attendance to 42,000.
“There’s an issue over the Hill whether we’d have to put seating in there because really controlling crowds on terraces is always going to be a nightmare going forward.”
After Horan’s remarks, GAA fans are hopeful they will finally see county action in the autumn as the Irish government eases the lockdown in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, while club players look set to resume their playing careers at the end of the month.
Clare legend and Wexford boss Davy Fitzgerald can’t wait to get back to his role as manager of his beloved Sixmilebridge club outside Ennis.
“To be given a bit of hope now that would put a smile on your face,” Fitzgerald told RTE’s The Sunday Game.
“If it’s club back before county, then I’m happy, but what I had said was that from a safety point of view I thought the county might have been easier to manage with way less numbers being involved across the various squads.
“Obviously, the GAA have this thought out so I’m more than happy. I’m lucky in that I coach my club side Sixmilebridge which I’m delighted with, so I’ll be back out. Club is so important but for me once any of them, club or county are back out I’m happy. Never once would I put club before county or county before club.”
The GAA could look to run off the 2020 Championship from October on, and Fitzgerald appears ready for any challenge with Wexford when hurling returns.
“It will be very hard. If you have a strong dual county, you’ll have to get both club championships played off in a set time, so by mid-September you could still be down x amount of player,” he added.
“The logistics will be tough, but we’re just going to have to get over it and deal with whatever comes. To me, this year isn’t about All-Irelands. Look it would be lovely to win one with Wexford; it would be lovely to win a club one with Sixmilebridge. It’s about getting out and being able to participate, being able to get into our fields, and being able to play a game.
“If we can do that, we’re winning. We’re getting a bit back. If we can achieve that it would be massive. But we will deal with whatever is there. Of course, we would love a longer championship but or a few months it looked like there wasn’t going to be anything.
“For the last couple of months, things have been tough, people have been worried about getting COVID, people have lost loved ones and our deepest sympathies, we have all been thinking of them.
“Through all of it, the country has stuck together. We just need to finish this off. We are a resilient bunch and please God we’ll be back out in the fields soon. We’ll mind each other and take care of each other. Things will be good, things are looking up.”