Pre-season provincial cups drawing hungry crowds
Attendances in Tuam and Parnell Park prove appetite for action after Christmas break
Dublin vs Meath in the O’Byrne Cup last weekend. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
As the pre-season provincial competitions enter their final weekend before the start of the leagues, the evidence suggests that at a time of concern about falling football attendances, the public appetite after the long break is fairly keen.
There were stand-out attendances over the weekend in Tuam for the Galway-Mayo Connacht league match and in Parnell Park on Saturday for the O’Byrne Cup semi-final between Dublin and Meath – but the Munster hurling league final brought an impressive 4,531 to a neutral venue, the Gaelic Grounds.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Thirteen years ago, at the height of their rivalry, Armagh and Tyrone – who will contest next weekend’s McKenna Cup final – brought 19,361 to Casement Park for the semi-final of that year’s competition.
The rivalry between Mayo and Galway in the west has become especially keen in recent years and, with James Horan back in charge of the former, there was such interest that 7,000 turned up to Tuam Stadium for the match, which was decided by penalties to give Galway another win in a sequence stretching from 2015.
To put it in context, the league fixture between the counties last February, which was played in Salthill and was a spiky encounter, attracted only a couple of thousand more, 9,850.
At Parnell Park, more than 6,000 were in attendance for another penalty shoot-out, won by Dublin’s experimental selection.
The Ulster Council has also been happy with the level of attendances at the McKenna Cup matches this year, with more than 3,000 at both semi-finals despite being in neutral venues. The final will be played in Armagh.
Interest is running sufficiently high for TG4 to provide live coverage of both O’Byrne Cup and McKenna Cup finals, which will be screened on Friday, at 8pm, and Saturday at 7.30pm respectively.
Meanwhile, Galway hurlers will have to travel to Enniscorthy to take on Wexford in the Walsh Cup final this Saturday. It’s an unwelcome hike for the Leinster champions, who have bad memories of last year’s league quarter-final in Wexford being called off twice, but the draw was made before last weekend’s semi-finals and the winners of the Wexford-Kilkenny match gained home advantage.
Finally, former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Owen Mulligan has announced his retirement from football. He won his medals in 2003 and 2005, winning an All Star in the latter season, and in recent years played for London in the Connacht championship.