MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Before the first whistle blows ...

The Championship?

You rock up, take your seat, and wait for the fun to begin. Right? But how much organisation goes into it and what are the plans for the future of the provincial games? Munster Council deputy CEO Enda McGuane takes us through 1 to 15 ...

1 Are counties duty bound to formally notify the Munster Council they wish to enter competitions?

“Counties must confirm what teams they intend to enter in competitions — Kerry didn’t enter a team in the McGrath Cup this year, for instance — and there’s a deadline that has to be met. It’s not a fait accompli, you don’t just announce a game and expect them to turn up. Counties are made aware of the time and date and they must notify us and confirm they will enter teams in those competitions. Email is acceptable as notification.”

2 Is there one event controller for games on whose desk the buck stops for everything?

“There is, this emanates from the ‘Blue Book’, the guidelines for every sports event that takes place in the country — it lays down the number of trained stewards and so on.

“The event controller is a local guy specific to the stadium, the point being you’d have different attendance patterns and demands in different stadia.

“In Ulster it’s different, by the way — it’s always the provincial secretary, because the legislation’s slightly different and permission for games is granted by the local council.”

3 How many people are working for the Munster Council at a Munster championship game?

“It depends on the game and the venue, but you could have up to 700-800 people between voluntary and paid people working at a game, and that doesn’t include Gardaí or vendors outside the stadium.

“Start with the stiles in Semple Stadium — you could have 80 stiles, those have to be manned and stewarded, and then you have 24-plus ticket sales booths outside the ground.

“Then you have mobile ticket vans — another 30-40 people working there — outside the ground, and stewards outside each stile directing people. There are stewards inside the ground, obviously, on each terrace, on each section within each stand: the preferred ratio is one trained steward per 1,000 people, but that would be supplemented by volunteer stewards.

“We have bottle checkers at almost every entrance, checking for bottles, and people on car park duty — in Dr Morris Park on the day of a big Munster hurling game, for instance, you could have 15 people. We’d have people patrolling the perimeter of the playing area to keep the sponsors’ billboards clear, we have people controlling access to the press — and though all the gates are locked, for health and safety you have to have them all manned in case of emergency.

“In addition, this year we’ll have 30-40 people working as greeters. It’s not long adding up.”

4 So what input do the playing teams/county boards have into the planning of a game?

“A lot depends on the relationship between the board and the stadium — in Limerick the county board are based in the stadium, as in Cork, so they would be very involved, while in Tipperary Semple Stadium is run separately to the board. You’d often have a county say, ‘we’d like our analysts/statisticians sitting behind our bench’ and we try to facilitate those requests.

“Tradition dictates a lot — the Killinan End in Semple is always Tipperary’s, the City End in Páirc Ui Chaoimh is Cork’s and so on, but the Clár an Lae is decided by the provincial secretary — he hands that down and the teams abide by it, the time the teams go out and so on. That’s broken down on occasion, and fines are dished out, but the odd time they’re held back for various reasons, and that can be frustrating for managers.

“The dressing room doors are manned, too.”

5 Who picks the music?

“We’ve discussed that this year for the first time. There’s a CD of GAA songs which will be used. The big challenge isn’t the set list, as such, but the quality of the sound system you’re using. We’ve looked at the possibility of live music at games but in all honesty the sound systems aren’t up to it in many stadia.

“The CD in question has mostly versions of traditional county songs, and we’re trying to use it to standardise the experience across the board. But people don’t realise that you’re dealing with a specific infrastructure — the PA system in most stadia is there to announce ‘plan A’ or ‘plan B’, basic announcements.

“Croke Park is different — it’s almost at concert standard, which is a different spec to almost every other stadium, so you can have Rubberbandits or Jedward or whoever.

“There’s a playlist, you’re always trying to be reasonably contemporary. But we’re looking to have a different mix this year in terms of music.”

6 Why does the referee always take the ball at the final whistle?

“I think it’s just tradition. In football one of the counties usually provides a ball for each half, while we’d provide the sliotars. I suppose in an All-Ireland there’s a lot of symbolism involved with the ball, and a referee would want to keep the match ball as much as anyone, but generally a player ends up with it.”

7 Are there special sandwiches made for VIPs like the President?

“If the President is coming, or the Taoiseach, then there’s a very specific protocol and very specific timings — everything is laid down, almost to the food type and quantity. The President would be served differently, almost on a formal basis, as befits the office. So the sandwiches would be slightly different.”

8 You’re hoping the pitch invasion will die away as it has in Croke Park?.

“There’s a health and safety issue. A five-year-old child or elderly person slipping and getting trampled is something we’d want to prevent so we’re trying to discourage it. People recognise that, in fairness. We’ve all been on the field at club level after games but we’re a different society now in every way.”

9 Who’s responsible for the cup when one has to be presented?

“It’s with the county up to a few weeks before the game, but the day of the game it’s the responsibility of the Munster Council PRO, who’s also responsible for the ribbons of the teams being on the handles.

“There’s a container but it’s not a lock-box, it’s just to protect the trophy when it’s in the boot of a car. We try to keep the cups in as good a condition as possible, but in fairness they’re in pretty good shape.

10 So presumably you’d prefer to keep the Munster championship instead of having an open draw?

“I’m biased so I’d say it would, due to the nature of the competition. An open draw might work but local rivalry is worth a lot, and is what the GAA is based on. Success is measured in different ways, remember — some counties in Munster would have aspirations to win the All-Ireland every year, while my county, Clare, would see reaching a Munster final as almost as big a step as winning one was 20 years ago.

“That’s the advantage of the provincial system, it gives counties attainable targets.”

11Still, how do you retain the tradition and integrity of the Munster championship while also trying to make it slick and new?

“You’ve to be careful — if you wanted to change the pre-match parade, for instance, you’d find that it’s generally viewed as bringing things to a crescendo. We try to take the best practices from sport everywhere, and the one challenge we’ll face is that we move from venue to venue.

“Each one has specific limitations — I’m sure even Croke Park have some things they’d like to do which they can’t, physically. It’s about adapting as much as we can. And we listen to people and their criticisms, so for Cork and Tipp in the hurling we’ll try to have extra stiles open and barriered areas to make the transition around the tunnel area smoother.”

12 Is Kerry hurling the mongrel dog you keep out in the shed?

“Definitely not. I saw their minors play Clare in the championship and they were competitive until a couple of goals went in and killed them off. The challenge is that hurling is number one in five of the other counties in the province, so it’s about getting games at the right level. We have a dedicated hurling development officer in Kerry with a specific plan for development.”

13 How about showcasing the Munster hurling final to a wider audience worldwide?

“We’ve toyed with a few things — we tried a bank holiday Monday for Clare-Waterford but due to weather and various other reasons that was a mixed bag in terms of success. We’ve streamed colleges games live but the streaming rights to the senior championships are part of the TV3/RTE/TG4 deal and would preclude us streaming them. So we’d have to work with them to see how it could be made more widely available.”

14 Given the profile of hurling in particular, should Munster get more of TV rights revenues for hurling coverage?

“I wouldn’t say no but — as Pat Fitzgerald has said — a clear breakdown of the valuation applied the Munster championship in terms of commercial and TV rights would be welcome. Different provinces — and different counties — have different strengths so it’s not so much a matter of proportion, when money goes into the pot you don’t have a clear valuation of your competition.

“We get a lot of grief from spectators about all the TV money we get, but in reality we don’t [get a lot of TV money]. The share we get is very small. There’s a lot of talk about a Champions League approach and what it might deliver, but people have to understand the current system and what it’s delivering first.”

15 What’s the one thing spectators can do to make a Munster championship game run smoother?

“The key one, the big one, is to buy your ticket in advance, because if you do, when you get to the ground you’re flexible because you have it and you don’t have to go in until you want to.

“That’s the most challenging thing for us — no matter how much management we do, if people don’t have their tickets beforehand then in the crucial five or 10 minutes a thousand stiles won’t cater for everyone.

“And that’s why all the discounts are heavily weighted towards people buying in advance, so it’s to their advantage financially to do so as well.”


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