Attendances have been poor, admits Walsh

MUNSTER Council chairman Sean Walsh has admitted that attendances at the province’s championship games have been disappointing thus far but the Kerry native has predicted an abrupt about-turn in the coming weeks.

A combined attendance of 7,234 have watched the two football ties between Kerry and Tipperary, in Thurles, and Waterford and Clare which was held in Dungarvan the weekend before last.

It has been a similar situation in both Leinster and Ulster. Just over 7,000 people watched last Sunday’s football double-header in Portlaoise while the Derry-Armagh clash in Celtic Park only just broke into five figures.

The one game to buck that trend thus far has been the meeting of Antrim and Tyrone in Casement Park last weekend but Walsh believes upcoming events in Munster will change all that.

“I know that the attendances haven’t been great up to now,” he said yesterday, “but I expect that to change with Cork and Tipp meeting in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and Kerry and Cork playing in Killarney the following weekend.”

This is the third time in three years that the hurlers of Cork and Tipperary find themselves paired in their opening Munster fixture and the average crowd for the last two ties is just under 39,000.

The same figure for the two Kerry-Cork provincial championship fixtures in 2009 stands at 31,237, all of which would appear to prove that familiarity is not yet breeding contempt on the terraces.

Walsh was speaking yesterday less than 24 hours after John Mullane’s criticisms of ticket prices for championship matches and, like Croke Park, the Kerry official has been quick to fend off any such accusations.

“We have done a lot in that area,’’ he said. “In Waterford last Sunday (for the Munster Football Championship tie with Clare) all under-16s were allowed in free so there was no need for family tickets.

“It was the same for the Kerry-Tipperary match in Thurles and we will have in the region of 2-3,000 family tickets available for the Cork-Kerry and Cork-Tipperary matches over the next two weekends.

“We are very cognisant of the fact that a lot of families are experiencing financial troubles. I said at the start of the year that it was something I was going to pay special attention to and we have.”

Mullane was also unhappy about the decision to fix Waterford’s Munster hurling semi-final game against Clare on the Bank Holiday Monday in nine days’ time, arguing it did not take players’ interests into consideration.

The two-time All Star followed the same line of reasoning when complaining about the overlap of fixtures between the provincial senior and U21 championships which will affect Waterford more than any other county in the coming week or so.

The county’s U21s begin their campaign next Wednesday with a fixture against Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and up to nine of that panel is double-jobbing with the seniors who are out against Ger O’Loughlin’s Clare just five days later.

Though Cork will also find their U21s and seniors out within four days of each other, the impact will be negligible on the Leesiders as it is unlikely that a single one of their players will line out on both occasions.

Nevertheless, it is clearly a live issue. The issue was also raised earlier this year when Tipperary, Clare and Waterford all found their U21 football commitments intermingling with that of their senior panels.

Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan aired a similar complaint last summer when he found himself balancing both senior and U21 hurling commitments in similar time frames but Walsh is adamant that there is little room for manoeuvre.

“I do sympathise with players who might feel it isn’t perfect but there is a huge crossover of players in the mix at different levels and codes at this time of the summer.

“For a start, we are dictated by the national fixtures list and the U21 hurling championship is played in the summer months. Sundays are given over for clubs so that is why we play the games midweek.”

In fact, midweek games in the U21 hurling championship have proven so successful that the Munster Council intends moving the football equivalent away from its weekend slot as of next year.

As it is, the Ulster U21 football championship has been run off on midweek nights for the last number of years and has been voted a huge success by teams and spectators alike.

“The proof is in the pudding. There was a huge crowd for the U21 football final between Tipperary and Kerry down in Tralee (this year) and that was on a midweek night and yet the game between Cork and Kerry in Killarney was played on a Saturday and there wasn’t a big crowd there for that at all.

“We are actually looking at playing all of the Munster U21 football matches midweek from next year on. The only reason we haven’t done it up to now was because we didn’t have the floodlights and you need floodlights if you want to do that at that time of the year when the evenings are shorter.”

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