Leinster Council open to idea of provincial hurling semis returning to Croke Park
Leinster chief executive Michael Delaney outlines why draw of double bill had waned to point where smaller grounds became more practical option
Galway’s Ronan Burke and Fergal Moore battle with Kilkenny’s Mark Kelly and Eoin Larkin during Sunday’s Leinster SH semi-final at O’Connor Park, Tullamore. Photograph: Inpho
Leinster Council is open to the idea of bringing the provincial hurling semi-finals back to Croke Park given the rise in attendances this year. The aggregate of the two semi-final this year have exceeded last season’s figure and should the Galway-Kilkenny replay draw a slightly largely crowd on Saturday the semi-finals total, admittedly over three matches, will break 40,000 for the first time in 11 years.
Speaking to The Irish Times, the province’s chief executive Michael Delaney outlined the reasons why the attractions of the double bill – which drew a record 52,307 to the headquarters venue 15 years ago – had waned to the point where smaller grounds became the more practical option. “The biggest factor was the falling off in Wexford, ” he said. “It’s great to see the county on the way back anyway but it’s also the big hurling supporter in the province and helped to bring huge crowds when they were going well.
Attendance records at the Leinster hurling semi-finals set in the 1950s were broken twice in the mid to late 1990s at a time when three counties from the province won the All-Ireland. By the 2000s even though Kilkenny’s dominance meant the championship wasn’t as competitive, there were crowds in excess of 40,000 in the early years of the decade.
The reconstruction of Croke Park forced the semi-finals to Thurles in 2002 and the attendance halved on the previous year. Although the crowd recovered in 2003, once the semi-finals stopped being played on a double bill or in Croke Park, the numbers declined.
“We ended up with matches and crowds ideal for provincial venues and nice atmospheric occasions,” according to Delaney, “but the supporters also like a certain level of comfort that you’ll only get in Croke Park. It’s a very big stadium for the size of crowds we’re getting but we don’t have alternatives with capacities greater than the mid-20s (thousands).”
Delaney is optimistic about this year’s turn-outs. “We’re very happy with the two attendances so far and if the trend of greater competitiveness continues we might well be able to justify bringing the semi-finals back to Croke Park.