Super 8s ‘Croke Park round’ to be reviewed
Fixture may be recategorised to avoid Dublin having two ‘home’ matches
Attendances for Dublin matches at Croke Park have dipped in this year’s championship. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The controversial “Croke Park round” may be part of this year’s review process at the end of the football championship. In the All-Ireland quarter-final format, one of the three rounds of matches – those pairing the provincial champions and those pairing the two qualifier teams – takes place in the stadium.
This has allowed Dublin play two matches there, a situation that prompted concerns and a motion to this year’s congress, last February, calling on the GAA to prohibit any team from playing its designated home match in the quarter-finals at Croke Park.
Under the experimental provision now in its second year, Croke Park rather than “neutral venue” is specified in the rule book although obviously for all counties except Dublin, it is neutral.
Last year, the review of the trial format recommended tweaking the schedule of matches so that the provincial champions had their home fixture on the first weekend, instead of the Croke Park round. The idea behind the alteration was that counties would receive some advantage from winning their provincial title.
It is believed that this year’s review, which will take place after the championship, will look at the idea of re-categorising the round as a “neutral” one, allowing Dublin’s match to be fixed for other venues.
Such a move would not necessarily impact on other counties and, for example, Sunday’s double bill of Mayo-Meath and Donegal-Kerry could still go ahead in Croke Park as the most convenient location and the fact that it drew a crowd of nearly 50,000 would also justify the choice.
Aside from the arguments over the fairness of Dublin having two matches in the stadium where they play all of their home league fixtures, there is the question of declining attendances at the champions’ fixtures, a trend that is almost certainly attributable to fatigue with their consistent success this decade.
GAA officials accept that any weakening of competitiveness generally impacts on the crowds, pointing out that when Kilkenny hurlers were at their peak the association had been lucky that two of their opponents, Limerick and Waterford, had been absent from the All-Ireland final for a number of years.
Global figures for the two quarter-final rounds to date aren’t bad and are on course to emulate and probably even slightly exceed last year’s total attendance of 217,040, as with the final weekend to come on the August bank holiday, this year’s numbers are just 45,746 in arrears.
In relation to Dublin’s group, however, there has been a greater decline with 46,640 fewer attending matches than in 2018. Group 1 has had much improved turn-outs and is already nearly 1,000 ahead of last year’s total before the final two matches, Meath-Kerry and Mayo-Donegal, are played.
For the first two rounds of the quarter-finals, Dublin’s matches have been unusually out-performed at the box office by other fixtures at the same stage of the championship.
On the first weekend, the champions’ match with Cork was watched by 30,214 as opposed to Kerry’s home match with Mayo in Killarney, which drew 31,312. Again last weekend, the double bill of Dublin against Roscommon and Cork versus Tyrone, pulled a smaller crowd (36,530) than Sunday’s programme, attended by 48,723.
After nearly two years of the Super 8s, it has become clear that one of the most successful elements of the experiment has been the use of provincial grounds, which have been full to near-capacity for matches featuring serious championship challengers.
By asking Dublin to play a neutral round at a provincial venue, it is believed that there would be greater atmosphere at matches and enhanced acceptance of the structure because of the removal of a provision widely seen as unfair.
Last year’s tweak of giving provincial champions their first match at home cut across the original rationale of minimising the chances of dead rubbers at the end of the schedules by playing off provincial champions against each other on the first weekend so that stronger teams would drop points at an early stage.
The impact of the change is that Group 2 has already been decided a round early with Dublin and Tyrone already through to the semi-finals whereas last year the same counties met in round two, meaning that one of them would have to win their final fixture to progress.