Goals crucial to get supporters filling empty seats, says O’Neill

GAA president Liam O’Neill is relaxed about the attendance figures for this year’s football and hurling championships.

With Euro 2012 and the Olympics in London competing for the public’s attention and the country still in the grip of recession, the association have embarked on a massive marketing blitz. And O’Neill is confident that fans will still flock to their games.

“I am relaxed about it because we know we have a great product, I know we have great players and I know we have great games in terms of fixtures.

“We have great clashes there and we’re happy that people will go and enjoy them. Our hope is that they would.”

O’Neill said a drop in numbers going to Championship games wouldn’t be a major concern for the GAA.

“If you take away the doom and gloom last year, our championship attendances held up pretty well and that was a surprise to many people.

“So a plus or minus of a few thousand isn’t going to make or break us. It does even itself out. You can’t predict because if counties like Longford and Laois, with lesser populations than say Dublin, Kildare and Meath, advance in the championship, naturally you’re going to have lower attendances.”

With the new square ball rule coming into operation this summer, O’Neill is optimistic it can bring more thrills and spills to Gaelic football.

“I think goals make games,” said the Trumera man, who is also assured referees will be au fait with the rule. “Points are great but goals are just special, you get a real ripple through a crowd when you get goals. I think if at the start of the season it went well for us and it brought more goals that might answer your question about attendances later in the season. If the excitement builds up earlier, people will come to the games later on.”

O’Neill revealed Croke Park has received no word from the London County Board regarding the inter-county eligibility rule. Earlier this month, the players delivered a statement criticising the rule which looked set to decimate their panel before the clubs elected to bring forward the first round of the London championship.

“We’ve heard no complaint from the clubs in London or from the London County Board,” stated O’Neill. “The rule, to play for London, is you either have to have played in last year’s championship or are going to play this year.

“I think it’s generally accepted by the clubs in London — one came out during the week that it was a huge advantage to them — that the people have to play club football with them and what we want is London football and hurling to prosper.

“This rule, believe it or not, will help to do that. While the players expressed views — everyone is entitled to their own views — we have to deal with the clubs and counties, and we’ve heard no official complaints.

“And when it turned out in the end, the problem was less than what was stated at one stage.”

On the subject of the FAI’s joint application to host Euro 2020 and possibility of them requesting the availability of GAA stadiums O’Neill is adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

“It’s only an expression of interest, as far as I know and we’ll deal with it as it comes up. It might not happen, and until it lands on our desk, our only focus is Sunday and getting our games going.”

In keeping with O’Neill’s comments about the possibility of the GAA’s own TV channel being established, Leinster and Ulster online channels were launched this week.


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