The Gaelic Players' Association (GPA) has reiterated its support for the GAA in the attempt to maintain Croke Park’s pitch as a supporter-free zone, starting with next Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final.
A major drive, including fencing off Hill 16 and beefing up security to prevent invasions from the three stands, is being undertaken as the GAA strives to begin a new era where supporters don't enter the pitch.
Winning the support of the GPA was a central plank in a policy which faces its first major test on Sunday. The GPA publicly backed the move a year ago and re-committed themselves in a statement issued yesterday.
“While we understand that this represents a break with tradition, the GPA is happy to support the initiative as it is not acceptable that players should have to endure verbal abuse or physical interference after an intense Championship game,” notes the statement. “We would also appeal to fans to consider losing players, particularly after this year's All-Ireland finals. The physical and emotional drain on players is immense. This is not a snub to patrons who support the games. Inter-county GAA players have enormous respect for their supporters as evidenced by their comments throughout the summer.
“Neither do we believe that the contribution and importance of the supporter is diminished in any way by ending pitch invasions. The quality of the Croke Park stadium is a testament to the respect for the Gaelic Games supporter.”
It also points out that while attacks on players by pitch invaders may be isolated, they cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.
Meath midfielder, Mark Ward, who was struck by a member of the public after this year's Leinster football final against Louth, raised the issue of players' reaction to such interference.
“No player makes a big deal about these things but what if I'd reacted? What if a player strikes a supporter? What will happen then? I can understand players not wanting to break with tradition and I'm no different, but after seeing, first hand, what can happen, I would be fearful that we will have a serious situation before long,” he said.
Meathreferee David Coldrick will take charge of the Down v Cork All-Ireland football final later this month.
Coldrick has officiated at several high-profile games this season and is now regarded as one of the top whistlers in the country. He will be assisted by umpires Tony Kearney, John Coldrick (bothBlackhall Gaels), James Matthews (Cortown) and Stephen O'Hare (Syddan). The stand-by referee for the final will be Gearóid Ó Conámha (Galway), the linesman is Maurice Deegan (Laois) and sideline official for the occasion is Syl Doyle (Wexford).
Sligo's Michael Duffy will officiate at the All-Ireland Minor football final between Tyrone and Cork.