'A gesture of goodwill' needed to lift interpro final
The GAA admits it is now relying on “a gesture of goodwill” to help justify the staging of this Sunday’s interprovincial football final in Croke Park.
It could make for a paltry attendance, as unlike other years, where special ticket packages were available, or juveniles admitted free, admission will also be strictly ticket only – the main incentive being all proceeds will go to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin.
The All-Ireland junior club football final, between Kenmare Shamrocks (Kerry) and Ballinasloe (Galway), is the confirmed curtain-raiser at 2pm, before Leinster take on defending interprovincial champions Ulster at 3.45pm, but given some other major sporting conflicts (including the opening round of the Allianz Hurling League, plus Ireland against Scotland in the Six Nations), it remains to be seen just how strong the charity element will prove.
Last Sunday’s four semi-finals – two each in football and hurling – drew a combined attendance of just 2,454: the Connacht-Leinster hurling showdown drew 489 to Tullamore, the Ulster-Munster double-bill in Armagh drew 1,615, while an estimated 350 attended the Leinster-Connacht football semi-final in Longford.
“Well this is about a gesture of goodwill”, said Alan Milton, GAA communications officer. “We have added the All-Ireland junior final, as the curtain-raiser, and would certainly hope that would bolster the attendance a little too.”
Indeed admission is by ticket only, and not the cash at the turnstiles scenario frequently adopted at charity events: “We haven’t taken cash at the turnstiles for four or five years,” explained Milton, “and wouldn’t be reversing that policy now, regardless of what game it is.
“But our advice has always been that people purchase tickets in advance, via the GAA website. They can print them up, bring them along, and avoid queuing. We will have ticket offices open on the day, but there are still three or four days for people to purchase tickets in advance.”
Tickets are certainly attractively priced, at €10 for adults, and €5 for juveniles, although GAA president Liam O’Neill has also admitted everyone will be expected to pay, as they won’t be giving any tickets away to help fill the stadium, like they have in the past.
“That won’t happen this time because everyone who walks through the door, from myself down, will pay for their ticket,” he said. “It will probably be the first time there has been a complete effort to make sure everyone supports what’s going on.”
There is the prospect of a highly competitive game, as Leinster, under former Dublin manager Pat Gilroy, showed when beating Connacht in last Sunday’s semi-final: Ulster manager Joe Kernan, who enjoyed a somewhat fortunate win over Munster last Sunday, is also adamant his team won’t be surrendering the title without a fight.
Yet even the introduction of the charity element may not be enough to save the competition, which has been on life support for the past number of years. What O’Neill is sure about is that the intention is sincere, even if it may take another year or two to properly catch on.
“We used to play these competitions to get them out of the way,” he added, “but an opportunity presented itself this year to try something outside of the box, something that has never been tried before.
“We’d be targeted anywhere between €50,000-€100,000 on the day, and any day that Crumlin Children’s Hospital makes €100,000 is a good day. Even if this year isn’t that huge, next year will be bigger and the year after will be too, because this is a three-year deal.
“We would hope that a lot of ordinary GAA people would buy a ticket, and even then they can decide whether or not they come.
“And if we have players here on the day signing autographs that means there is now a reason for parents to bring their children, and so on, and this will all build up into a bigger thing.”
It can’t help matters that the final is going up against two high-profile games in the Hurling League (Galway against Kilkenny, in Pearse Stadium, also live on TG4, and followed by delayed coverage of Clare against Waterford, in Ennis) – and O’Neill agreed there was no such thing as ideal timing for the competition.
The Munster-Connacht Interprovincial hurling final has been confirmed for Ennis on Sunday, March 3rd (2pm).