Cork manager Ephie Fitzgerald is fearful the first-ever staging of the All-Ireland ladies football semi-finals at Croke Park will be totally devoid of atmosphere given a crowd of between 5,000 and 10,000 is expected at GAA HQ this Sunday.
Mayo face Connacht champions Galway in the opener (2pm), with All-Ireland champions Dublin meeting league winners Cork at 3.45pm. But if Mayo and Galway supporters decide to head away after the first game, it may well be the case that the second game, a repeat of the 2018 All-Ireland final, is watched by less than 5,000 patrons.
“The only concern I would have is the crowd,” said Cork manager Fitzgerald, who once again reiterated his wish that more people would come out and attend ladies football games, the All-Ireland final aside.
“There is a brilliant atmosphere there for the final when there is a crowd of 40,000 or 50,000. I just wonder how big of a crowd will be there on Sunday, I don’t think it will be huge. You had the hurling final last weekend and the men’s football final is the weekend after next, which Dublin is involved in, so I don’t know how many you are going to have there this weekend.”
Although he expects his charges to be playing in front of a near-empty stadium, Fitzgerald believes it was the right move to bring the last-four games to Croker.
From a players’ point of view, the girls are delighted to be playing in Croke Park, there is no issue there. That is where everyone wants to be. I just wish we’d get more support there, to be honest.
“I do think if you have 5,000-10,000 in Croke Park, they are lost in a stadium that can hold 82,300. It won’t lend to a great atmosphere.”
He added: “It is expensive to go to these games, whether by train, car, or bus. Then, there are match tickets and feeding the family, so it is going to cost you a few hundred quid. And with the games on television, people tend to stay at home a lot and watch these things.”
Fitzgerald foresees an incredibly tight game on Sunday and said his players have taken confidence from their Division 1 league success, which included a 1-18 to 2-14 extra-time semi-final win over Dublin.
“The league has given us more confidence and given the younger girls more confidence. But look it, over the past four years, we’ve played each other twice in the championship, and we won one and they won one. We’ve played several times in the league and it is always close. Sunday will be more of the same.
“Dublin will be strong favourites. That’s understandable. They are a lot further down the road than we are. We won the league and Munster championship so there has been good progression there for our girls.
"We know the task ahead of us. We know they are very, very strong, physically, and are an athletic team. They know one another inside and out.”
There will be unreserved seating in the Lower Hogan Stand for Sunday’s semi-final double-header, which will be the only section of the stadium open to supporters on the afternoon. Adult tickets are priced at €20, €10 for students and OAPs, while juveniles go for €2.