Football crowds at Croke Park are low and GAA is unsure why
Third-lowest football crowds in last 10 years could be down to a number of reasons
A view of Hill 16 during the All-Ireland SFC semi-final between Dublin and Galway. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Whereas the GAA is reluctant to jump to conclusions about the poor attendances at the weekend, the combined crowds from Saturday and Sunday were the third-lowest aggregate at All-Ireland football semi-finals in the last 10 years and the lowest for a year in which Dublin have been involved.
The issue is more to do with football than hurling as the combined attendances at all four semi-finals, 273,722, is the fifth biggest in the past 20 years, helped by the big turn-out for the Limerick and Cork hurlers.
Speculation has centred on the experimental playing of semi-finals on the same weekend, the impact of Saturday matches and the expanded quarter-final round, the Super 8s, and the dominance of Dublin in the football championship as well as the identity of the other teams.
This year’s championship has seen the introduction of more matches in football and hurling together with a contracted season and the structure is due to trial for three years.
The introduction of extra time in All-Ireland semi-finals had no impact on the football matches but both penultimate hurling contests ended up tied after 70 minutes. The ultimate cost to the GAA was one potential replay, as Galway and Clare were still locked together after the additional playing periods.
It meant that for the past five years, an All-Ireland semi-final has had to be replayed.
“It’s hard to know when you’re talking about attendances in new or one-off situations,” according Feargal McGill, the GAA’s Head of Games Administration. “We have to deal with trends and these can take a while to emerge. We’re in the middle of a three-year experiment and the purpose is to create extra weeks for clubs, which can get forgotten.
“It may turn out that that that over three years, Saturdays aren’t working for All-Ireland semi-finals but I’m not convinced. In the past we’ve had plenty of Dublin games on a Saturday and attendances haven’t been an issue.”
The starkest fall in attendance was at Dublin’s football match with Galway on Saturday. Since Croke Park’s redevelopment was finalised a decade and a half ago, every All-Ireland football semi-final featuring the county has drawn crowds of 80,000-plus.
Three days ago, just 54,716 turned up, virtually the same as the Galway-Clare hurling semi-final, also on a Saturday, which attracted 54,191 – but which was, as McGill pointed out, “over 10,000 more than we had anticipated.”
For Dublin though it was a lowest attendance at an All-Ireland semi-final since 1994 and even that match against novel Connacht champions Leitrim pulled in 52,606, which was more or less the capacity of Croke Park during that phase of the new stadium development.
In 1992, for instance, a similarly rare pairing with Clare drew 57,793 in the old ground and you probably have to go back 33 years to find a comparably poor crowd, the 40,295 at the 1985 semi-final against Mayo and even the replay for that well exceeded last Saturday’s attendance.
But Dublin’s recent All-Ireland semi-finals have been against top contenders, whether Mayo – whose absence from this year’s final stages has been felt at the turnstiles – or teams with All-Irelands or on the verge of them.
Galway were a different type of opponent, their credentials undermined by Monaghan a week previously and their hurlers back in an All-Ireland final, as recognised by Dublin footballer Jack McCaffrey, who expressed himself happy with the turn-out.
“It’s a long summer for a lot of fans from Galway; you’re up in Dublin every other week and with Super 8s and all that kind of craic there’s been a lot of matches.”
Galway footballers tend not to attract enormous crowds and their previous four semi-finals brought in an average of 42,291 even though they were All-Ireland winners in that era.
McGill accepts that Dublin’s domination may be having a chilling effect on attendances.
“I think personally that may be a factor. In any competition people are more likely to go to watch when the outcome is in doubt. There was concern that we wouldn’t sell out hurling finals when Kilkenny were at their peak. We got lucky in that Limerick and Waterford reached finals around that time and sold tickets because of the novelty value of reaching a final.”
All-Ireland semi-finals attendances (First two are hurling and second two football)
1999: 37,629 (Cork v Offaly), 54,151 (Kilkenny v Clare), 58,496 (Cork v Mayo), 60,589 (Meath v Armagh). Total: 210,865.
2000: 34,655 (Offaly v Cork), 42,436 (Kilkenny v Galway), 50,549, 50,051 (Kerry v Armagh, replay), 53,483 (Galway v Kildare). Total: 231, 174.
2001: 50,274, 39,120 (Tipperary v Wexford, replay), 34,301 (Galway v Kilkenny), 40,060 (Galway v Derry), 61,296 (Meath v Kerry). Total: 225,051.
2002: 57,724 (Kilkenny v Tipperary), 53,385 (Clare v Waterford), 46,515 (Kerry v Cork), 79,386 (Armagh v Dublin). Total: 237,010.
2003: 59,435, 46,670 (Cork v Wexford, replay), 60,087 (Kilkenny v Tipperary), 58,687 (Tyrone v Kerry), 76,134 (Armagh v Donegal). Total: 301,013.
2004: 51,263 (Kilkenny v Waterford), 63,223 (Cork v Wexford), 64,519, 39,485 (Mayo v Fermanagh), 35,457 (Kerry v Derry). Total: 253,947.
2005: 50,579 (Cork v Clare), 39,973 (Galway v Kilkenny), 39,594 (Kerry v Cork), 65,858 (Tyrone v Armagh). Total: 196,004.
2006: 61,753 (Kilkenny v Clare), 70,978 (Cork v Waterford and Mayo v Laois football quarter-final), 58,703 (Kerry v Cork and Mayo v Laois football quarter-final replay), 82,148 (Mayo v Dublin). Total: 273,582.
2007: 54,994 (Kilkenny v Wexford), 80,546 (Limerick v Waterford and Kerry v Monaghan football quarter-final), 37,794 (Cork v Meath), 82,157 (Kerry v Dublin). Total: 255,491.
2008: 71,235 (Kilkenny v Cork and Cork v Kildare football quarter-final), 53,625 (Waterford v Tipperary), 35,137 (Kerry v Cork), 65,252 (Tyrone v Wexford and Kerry v Cork replay). Total: 225,249.
2009: 61,962 (Kilkenny v Waterford and Meath v Mayo football quarter-final), 43,808 (Tipperary v Limerick), 52,492 (Cork v Tyrone), 50,770 (Kerry v Meath). Total: 209,032.
2010: 41,060 (Kilkenny v Cork), 49,754 (Tipperary v Waterford), 80,225 (Cork v Dublin), 62,182 (Down v Kildare). Total: 233,221.
2011: 31,638 (Kilkenny v Waterford), 43,562 (Tipperary v Dublin), 50,643 (Kerry v Mayo), 81,436 (Dublin v Donegal). Total: 207,279.
2012: 41,550 (Galway v Cork), 50,243 (Kilkenny v Tipperary), 55,142 (Donegal v Cork), 81,364 (Mayo v Dublin). Total: 228,299.
2013: 62,092 (Cork v Dublin), 62,962 (Clare v Limerick), 65,345 (Mayo v Tyrone), 81,553 (Dublin v Kerry). Total: 271,932.
2014: 45,478 (Kilkenny v Limerick), 68,741 (Tipperary v Cork), 52,500, 36,256 (Kerry v Mayo, replay), 81,500 (Donegal v Dublin). Total: 284,475.
2015: 41,122 (Kilkenny v Waterford), 58498 (Galway v Tipperary), 53,048 (Kerry v Tyrone), 81,356, 81,897 (Dublin v Mayo, replay). Total: 315,921.
2016: 34,729, 30,500 (Kilkenny v Waterford, replay), 54,227 (Tipperary v Galway), 53,661 (Mayo v Tipperary), 80,250 (Dublin v Kerry). Total: 253,367.
2017: 68,200 (Galway v Tipperary), 68,200 (Waterford v Cork), 66,234, 53,098 (Mayo v Kerry, replay), 81,171 (Dublin v Tyrone). Total: 340,725.
2018: 54,191, 44,246 (Galway v Clare, replay), 71,073 (Limerick v Cork), 54,716 (Dublin v Galway), 49,496 (Tyrone v Monaghan). Total: 273,722.