Bumper weekend of GAA action will see a quarter of a million people attend matches

Provincial finals in football and hurling to attract the biggest crowds of the summer

Dublin are heavily favoured to beat Meath in a repeat of last year’s Leinster SFC final. Photograph: cathal noonan/inpho

Dublin are heavily favoured to beat Meath in a repeat of last year’s Leinster SFC final. Photograph: cathal noonan/inpho

Sat, Jul 13, 2013, 01:00

Sun-cream at the ready, cold drinks in the flasks. The great summer caravan gathers pace this weekend when close on a quarter of a million people countrywide will pitch up at various finals and qualifiers in all four provinces. From the 60-odd thousand expected at Croke Park for tomorrow’s Leinster football final between Dublin and Meath all the way down to the 4,000 or so that are likely to come through the gates in Carrick-On-Shannon this evening for Leitrim v Armagh, every hue of GAA crowd will settle in for the action.

Although temperatures are expected to drop somewhat from the equatorial heights of the week just gone, the humidity levels are to rise to somewhere close on 75 per cent. Given the stakes attached to each game at this point in the season, Monday morning will see a lot of sweated-through shirts in the wash. The feeling of summer’s screws tightening is inescapable.

Closest call is likely to be in Limerick tomorrow, where Cork and Limerick come together for the Munster hurling final in front of a crowd of around 44,000. Incredibly, it will be the first Munster final since 1999 that doesn’t include one or other of Tipperary or Waterford. Jimmy Barry-Murphy managed Cork to victory over Clare that day and takes the line again tomorrow for what will be his 14th Munster hurling final as player and manager.

He’s only ever lost one, to Limerick as it happens, all of 33 years ago.

For Limerick, it is a chance to end the longest wait of the five main Munster counties for a provincial title, one that goes all the way back to 1996. John Allen has named the same 15 that beat Tipperary on June 9th. The fact that the side contains only Paul Browne and Graeme Mulcahy from the team that last met Cork in the Munster championship just three years ago tells a little of the journey Limerick hurling has made from those strife-ridden days. A 19th Munster title would be a fine way to complete the trip.

The other hurling business of the weekend goes down in Thurles this evening where two qualifiers of equal intrigue are expected to draw 25,000 or so. Wexford and Clare face off the in the first game, the former hoping that the under-21 success of the past week provides enough of a lift to compete with a team fuelled by a couple of years of just that kind of fire.

Clare have been quietly clicking into gear and dealt with Laois last weekend a lot more comfortably than Wexford disposed of Carlow. Yet it is only six weeks since Liam Dunne’s young side were five minutes away from sending Dublin out of the Leinster championship and now Anthony Daly’s side are in an All-Ireland semi-final. The championship ebbs and the championship flows.

For no county has that been more true this summer than Kilkenny, still the reigning champions but possibly vulnerable to an ambush from Waterford in the second game in Thurles tonight. Beating Tipperary in front of a bloodthirsty home crowd last Saturday is one thing, keeping their eye on the prize against a Waterford side with nothing to lose tonight might well be another. Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly are on the bench, likely to be put to use only if Kilkenny are in trouble.

Vulgar odds
In football, the biggest crowd of the summer so far will roll into Croke Park tomorrow to see the Leinster final between Dublin and Meath. For an old-style fixture, it wears a newish coat this year with frankly vulgar odds being offered about a Dublin win. The overwhelming assumption that Jim Gavin’s side only have to find their way out of the tunnel will stick in every Meath craw.

The four qualifiers this evening will thrum away to their own rhythms. While Armagh ought to have too much about them on their visit to Leitrim, there is little to choose in the other three games. Longford and Wexford were only separated by a single point after a replay last year and Cavan and Fermanagh stood level with five minutes to go in Enniskillen a month ago. And in Newbridge, two pillars of the great Armagh half-back line of a decade ago meet, Kieran McGeeney and Aidan O’Rourke in charge of Kildare and Louth. Possibly the game of the day.