Croke Park capacity will be just over 30,000 at best

A general view of Croke Park in Dublin. Pictures: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
By John Fogarty
GAA Correspondent

Croke Park’s capacity is expected to be reduced to just over 30,000 so long as social distancing is in place, GAA director general Tom Ryan has confirmed.

As the GAA yesterday revealed their All-Ireland senior hurling and football finals will be staged on Sunday, December 13 and Saturday, December 19 respectively, Ryan said the capacity will increase from approximately 28,000 so long as the two metres restriction is in place. However, that will still mean a decrease of close to 60%.
“We have done exercises in Croke Park about how many people we can fit in given the social distancing restrictions in place at the moment,” said Ryan. “We’d be working off a capacity crowd of 25-28,000 people, which clearly has a financial implication; it restricts the financial benefit to us.

“To be honest, the financial side of things will be whatever it is; the capacity of grounds will be whatever it is, we’ll be guided by the health authorities in both jurisdictions. There are other things we could have done if the financial aspect was an imperative – we could have played more games than we’ve outlined, but that would have meant going back to inter-county earlier to fit them into the competition structures.

“The main imperative was to get people back playing matches, first and foremost clubwise, then follow that up with the counties. I think that will have a positive impact on all manner of spheres – unfortunately finance will not be the first of those.

“Depending on the households and groups buying tickets you can play around a little with the capacity but, off the top of my head, even if it’s down to one metre it wouldn’t go far north of 30,000.”

Although the GAA took the decision to stage their first non-replay All-Ireland SFC final on a Saturday, they stopped short of organising fixtures for Friday nights despite the intense schedule, expected capacity restrictions and demand to see games on TV.

“We won't be having Friday night fixtures for the very simple reason that we remain a volunteer association” stated GAA director of player, club and games administration Feargal McGill. “If you have a game at 8 o'clock on a Friday, you are talking about teams getting together at 1 o'clock in the day. That's a half day off work for those that have to work. The practicalities are just not on. It's nice to look at rugby and soccer and think it's great that they can play on any day. It's not practical in an amateur association.”

As for the venues for Championship games, the GAA haven’t yet ruled out the original confirmed stadia staging them. GAA president John Horan remarked: “Venues will be what’s suitable to get a reasonable crowd into it and the crowd situation is all dependent on the recommendations we get from the health authorities in terms of what we can put into grounds.”
As expected, one of the sacrifices made is the provincial and All-Ireland club championships. “We have to build in a rest period for people as well, we also have third level competitions that have an impact on that,” said McGill. “Something has to give and I suppose our priority as an Association is to get a good club window in 2020.

“It ultimately came down to giving the time to the many as opposed to the few. That’s just a hard decision that we have to make, not one we’re thrilled about but a hard decision we just had to make.”

McGill said consideration was given to an open draw for the All-Ireland SFC but they opted to retain the provincial structure as more teams would win silverware and an open draw wouldn’t necessarily avoid mismatches.

The Championship commences with Munster and Leinster SHC quarter-finals on the weekend of October 24 and 25 with all four football provincial competitions starting the following weekend. Both provincial senior hurling finals will take place on the weekend of November 14 and 15. The McDonagh Cup final will be played as the curtain-raiser for the Liam MacCarthy Cup final.

The Munster and Ulster SFC deciders are scheduled for November 22. The Munster senior football champions will face the Connacht winners in the All-Ireland semi-finals as per rota. The Leinster SFC final and possibly All-Ireland SHC quarter-finals will coincide with the Bloody Sunday commemoration in Croke Park on November 21.

As anticipated, there will be two rounds of qualifiers and All-Ireland quarter-finals for teams beaten in their provincial championships. In round one, the six teams who do not make the provincial finals will be placed in a draw with the first four teams drawn in round one, two Munster teams facing two Leinster teams, and the other two receiving a bye into round two and that draw will be subject to avoiding repeat pairings where possible.

The All-Ireland SFC is a straight knock-out competition and won’t involve New York meaning Galway face Sligo in a Connacht semi-final. Pending travel restrictions, London will face Roscommon although that is likely to be staged in Ireland. The same fluid situation applies to the UK counties involved in the lower tier hurling championships. Consideration will be given in the coming weeks to the ramifications of Kerry winning the Joe McDonagh Cup.

Meanwhile, extra-time and penalties will be applicable to all inter-county knock-out games including All-Ireland finals.

Those teams finishing top of the Allianz Football Leagues after the final two rounds in October will be considered winners. The finals in Division 2 and 3 are the only games that will be played in hurling.

The U20 All-Ireland football semi-finals and finals will be completed, starting on the opening weekend of the inter-county window, while the U20 hurling championship will be played concurrently with the senior hurling championship. A player who lines out in the SHC becomes ineligible for U20 until his senior team has exited the championship.

The minor championships will be straight knock-out but won’t be played on the same bills as senior games as there is a determination to conclude them earlier. Galway will play the Munster minor champions in the one All-Ireland semi-final.

There will be no junior championship in 2020 due to time constraints. The 2020 second level schools competition will be completed to provincial final stage only.

The Central Competitions Control Committee have also recommended county finals should be completed by October 4 for counties starting Championship on the weekend of October 24.

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