AS a person with a physical disability, I have not travelled for a hurling match since the mid 90’s. Since then I have started playing wheelchair hurling, representing Munster and winning two All Ireland league and championship medals.
At the beginning of 2018, I started going to matches again. Though it is a fantastic time to be a Limerick GAA supporter, I noticed some access issues along the way. As a result I decided to catalogue my experiences in the 2019 season. This article will give you an idea of what access is like for a person with a physical disability attending GAA matches.
The first match I travelled to this season was Limerick v Kilkenny away in Nowlan Park in the National League. This was my first time visiting the home of the cats and it was a fairly disastrous experience in terms of access for a person with a physical disability. We were sent on a wild goose chase around the grounds for an hour by a number of stewards and members of An Garda Siochana who did not know where the accessible parking was supposed to be. Eventually we parked in a shopping centre close to ground with no other options available and no information or help forthcoming.
When we arrived at the ground there was a very steep hill to climb to get to the viewing area, one that a person with a physical disability would have a very tough time climbing. Once we finally reached our seats we were treated to a fantastic display by the Limerick team, but to be frank the sheen was taken off what should have been a most enjoyable day, due to the terrible access issues.
The next trip away was to Cusack Park in Ennis to see Limerick play Clare in a fiery battle in snow, sleet and rain. Frankly, this venue is the standard that all county boards should be aiming for. The location of parking for fans with disabilities is disseminated throughout the media in the week before the game. The stewards, that we met, have lived experience of disabilities and are respectful, helpful and conscientious. The only negative aspect of the venue is the fact that the stand is not covered. On what was a bitterly cold and wet afternoon, a covered stand would have been much appreciated. But, despite the draw, we have no complaints.
The LIT Gaelic Grounds, based solely on the fact that it is our home venue and we have been there on numerous occasions, is perhaps one of the easier venues to navigate. The view is quite good, with only a fence marring a third of the pitch. With that said, it is not without its issues. On one occasion, a steward referred to me, in my absence, as “the wheelchair”. So a bit like the Championship this year for Limerick fans, going to the Gaelic Grounds has its ups and downs.
We went to Semple Stadium in Thurles for the first time this year for Limerick v Tipperary in the Munster Round Robin Series. Parking was very easy due to the kindness of a member of an An Garda Siochana, who was a credit to his profession. Again, just like Cusack Park in Ennis, the big downside to this venue is that the wheelchair section is not covered - as Shortt says “ it’d be a lovely little country if we could only roof it!” It is noteworthy that the male disabled toilet was also flooded which is undoubtedly hazardous for physically disabled GAA fans as well as simply unhygienic.
Finally, we were back to Croke Park for what was a blistering semi-final between Limerick and Kilkenny. Due to our previous experience, we had a good idea of what to expect. This time last year we were sent on a wild goose chase, by stewards, to find the disabled entrance to the stadium. We were strolling along for about an hour, being sent from pillar to post before we were sent to the right place. This time it was much easier as we knew our way around, so to speak. But I can’t help but feel that experience for physically disabled GAA fans would be much better and less stressful with just a few small changes. Better trained stewards for starters, preferably with lived experience, like those encountered at Cusack Park.
It would also be fantastic if County Boards sent out information via the media the week before a match so that fans with a physical disability know where to park and enter the ground, again this is something that Clare County Board do very well. Having maps online of each ground showing entrances for physically disabled fans as well as disabled toilets would be very helpful as well.
The GAA’s current tagline is 'Where We All Belong', while this is the ideal, it doesn’t seem to be the current case with the access issues that exist in many of the countries main GAA stadiums.