Concern grows at falling GAA crowds

THE chairman of the GAA’s Munster Council, Jimmy O’Gorman, has urged Croke Park to urgently consider new schemes to tackle falling attendances at some of the Association’s glamour games.

The provincial chief says a combination of the economic downturn, increased television coverage, inclement weather and the qualifier system has contributed to smaller crowds attending provincial championship ties in recent seasons.

But he warned that Croke Park bosses must counter such negatives by devising new strategies and concepts to promote hurling and football nationwide. Failure to do so, he predicts, will damage provincial council coffers and spell disaster for grassroot coaching and development.

O’Gorman expressed disappointment at the attendance figure for Sunday’s clash of Clare and Limerick which brought 28,603 to Semple Stadium. Indeed, the figures across the country at the weekend make glum reading for GAA money men.

The triple header at Croke Park on Sunday was watched by 25,555; the Connacht SFC semi-final of Mayo and Sligo brought 12,317 to McHale Park while 14,173 witnessed Fermanagh’s shock Ulster championship win over NFL champions Derry in Omagh on Saturday evening.

Said O’Gorman: “When we had the fixture fixed for Thurles we were looking at 33-35,000 people attending the game. But coming into the weekend we knew that was not going to be the case. We had sold about 16,000 tickets in Limerick but the sales in Clare weren’t as strong.

“So on Saturday our expectations were down to about 30,000. Maybe weather conditions didn’t help with the walk up crowd on the day of the game but we were disappointed with the crowd. However I was more disappointed with the attendance at the first round game between Clare and Waterford which was 17,500.”

He also defended the decision to play the game in Semple Stadium, with many feeling the game should have been played in Limerick.

“The decision to play the game in Semple Stadium was democratically voted on by the council. No one individual makes that kind of decision. It is done by representatives of the counties.”

He reasoned: “Maybe it is the era that we are in. Maybe it is the economy. We know that it is an expensive day when you take into account the cost of tickets, travel, meals and all those things.

“We are hearing that and the Munster Council is keeping the same prices for tickets as we did last year. But the monies for attendances at our provincial championship games is vital for us. We have a huge commitment to GAA in the province. We employ in excess of 13 people and this year we paid out €2.2m to the counties in Munster to help the development, promotion and coaching of our games. Much of that money comes for the gates of these games.”

O’Gorman, a long term advocate of televising matches, is also worried that the medium may be close to ‘saturation’ point.

“Television has been very good to us, and is very good to us. But you can have too much of a good thing. I am totally in favour of television especially for the old and the ill who can’t go to matches but I am worried that it is coming close to saturation point. That is something that we the GAA, along with our sponsors have to look at. I would like to see it discussed and debated and some solution found.”

He continued: “The challenges are there for the GAA. There are so many other counter attractions now, like concerts, like the Euro 2008 finals. But the GAA must promote their product and ensure that they have the best facilities. We need to get the people back — not alone in Munster but nationwide.”

Mr O’Gorman praised Semple Stadium stewards and Gardaí for the manner in which referee Eamonn Morris was escorted off the pitch after Clare’s 4-12 to 1-16 win over Limerick.

The Dublin official infuriated Limerick manager Richie Bennis with a number of his decisions and some Shannonside supporters attempted to confront the whistle blower in the aftermath of the game but were prevented from doing so by stewards and gardaí.

“We have to be very conscious of protecting our match officials. All our games are undertaken to the best level of Health and Safety regulations. The referee is just one person and so often they come in for severe criticism. But people seem to forget that the games are being played at a serious pace and the referee must make their minds up in a split second or else they have no point in being there. Overall our referees are well trained and are delivering to a very high standard.”

The Munster final is fixed for Limerick on July 13 and will throw in at 4pm.

Meanwhile Clones has got the nod to host the Ulster football final next month. Fermanagh will meet the winners of Sunday’s clash of Armagh and Down on July 20. Belfast’s Casement Park had been in contention to stage the northern showpiece event, but Fermanagh’s involvement for the first time in 26 years is believed to have been a big factor in the Ulster Council’s decision to go for St Tiernach’s Park.

The minor final will also take place on the same date in a double-header and the event will be all-ticket. The Ulster final has been held at Croke Park in recent seasons, but that option had already been ruled out due to a clash with the Leinster final.


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