Standing room only as the field begins to narrow

Attendances up across all provinces as the championship heats up

Brian Hurley of Cork in action during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, this month.  Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Brian Hurley of Cork in action during the Munster GAA Football Senior Championship Final, Fitzgerald Stadium, Killarney, this month. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho


Sixteen games to go. Assuming no replays, that is, which is no assumption at all really.

In Carrick-on-Shannon, Croke Park and Thurles the whittling process kicks into gear this weekend, slimming the football championship down to eight teams and the hurling down to four.

This is when the last of the remaining chaff will be picked off and discarded. From here on out, it’s wheat and wheat only.

Thank the weather, thank the fixture fairies, thank the ticket prices and the marketing. Whatever the reason, attendances are up across the board this summer.

Not only has each provincial championship in football and hurling has shown an increase on last year, the hurling qualifiers were more popular this year than ever as a result of having Kilkenny and Tipperary in them. When the football qualifiers come to an end this evening, they look likely to show a bump as well.

Significantly higher
Overall, the combined attendances at the provincial championships this summer are up 50,643 on last year. When the qualifiers are added in after this evening’s matches, the total increase will rise to at least 80,000. A massive 613,875 people went to matches in the provinces, up almost nine per cent on last year. And the hurling qualifiers alone showed a 38 per cent increase.

The Ulster football championship drew just over 131,000 paying guests, up roughly 7,000 on the 2012. As John Connolly of the Ulster Council points out, that number could easily have been significantly higher had they been able to accommodate all inquiries for tickets.

“Last year our attendances were up 16.4 per cent,” says Connolly, “and this year that’s up again by another five or so. If Donegal v Tyrone had been in Cavan or Clones, you would have had an extra five or six thousand at it and if Health & Safety measures hadn’t reduced the capacity of Clones by 4,000 from what it was last year, we would have easily filled those as well.

“We had demand for almost 10,000 tickets over capacity for the Ulster final.”

The figures in Connacht are similarly up, even in a year where London made the final without an obvious fanbase to bring with them.

Although the Connacht final numbers were down about 1,500 on last year, the overall numbers show a 17.5 per cent increase. Whereas just a shade over 68,000 went to games in the Connacht championship in 2012, that number went up to 79,900 this year.

“The weather was a big help,” says Connacht secretary John Prenty. “Plus the fact that a lot of people have stayed at home this year instead of going away for holidays. But the fixtures have fallen for us as well. The preliminary round last year was Roscommon v Galway, this year it was Galway v Mayo – the difference in crowds there was nearly 5,000.

“The semi-final last year them was Galway v Sligo, whereas this year it was Mayo v Roscommon – that was worth an extra 3,000 or so. All in all, we’re up around 11,000 on last year.”

The trend continues in Munster and Leinster, across both codes. The meeting of Kerry and Cork in Killarney for the Munster final was the main driver of a 34 per cent increase in the football championship in the south. It pushed the figures up from 42,110 in 2012 to 56,401 this time around.

While the increase in the hurling championship figures wasn’t nearly as pronounced, the final number still showed a jump from 90,371 to 93,389.

As for Leinster, Dublin’s run to the football and hurling double pushed the combined figures above 250,000, a 17,000 increase.

So whatever happens from here, there’s no question of the championship losing its pull. Tomorrow’s double header in Thurles will narrow the focus of the hurling story just a little more. Kilkenny face Cork and Galway tweak tails with Clare. You have to go all the way back to 1951 to find a year where Kilkenny didn’t play a match in Croke Park. In a year of tumbling records, could another one go?

Fizz and ferocity
But today is a football day. The All-Ireland champions go to Carrick-On-Shannon in search of the fizz and ferocity that carried them to the title last year and the consensus is that Donegal will give Laois a torching to get back on the horse.

That was the consensus last weekend as well though and look how that turned out.

In Croke Park, a triple-header. London’s probable last dance of a sweetly melodic season comes against Cavan at headquarters, followed by Cork v Galway and Tyrone v Meath. If any team is to make a move from curiosities to contenders, today’s the day.

The draw for the quarter-finals will follow it all on RTÉ Two at 8.30 this evening. One pot will contain Kerry, Dublin, Mayo and Monaghan and the other the four winners from the day’s games.

Provincial final pairings can’t be repeated but teams who met before their provincial final can be draw together again.