FORMER Clare All-Ireland-winning manager Ger Loughnane last night launched an impassioned defence of the Munster championships and warned that any plans to abolish the competition would result in the GAA “losing part of its soul”.
Speaking at the official launch of this year’s Munster senior championships in Mallow, Loughnane urged county representatives present to resist plans to introduce a Champions League-style system to the inter-county senior scene.
“There is a big move within the GAA from certain sections to go for a Champions League-style system. I don’t agree with it. I wouldn’t like to see that happening and losing what we have. I’m telling you, if you go to any other system, you will never ever repeat the feeling the players and supporters get from that rivalry that exists between counties in the Munster championship. We cannot downgrade it in any way. Other provincial championships are not as important as the Munster championship. In respect of all the great figures that have gone before, fight with all your might to hold on to the greatest provincial championship in the country.
“If we lost it, we’ll have lost something really precious and we won’t get it with any other format. We’d have lost a massive part of our soul in the GAA. This is our preserve. This is what the GAA is about. It’s not about the corporate days in Croke Park. It’s about the feeling you get from playing in and winning the Munster championship. But as great as the tradition is, tradition on its own will not save it. It is up to every county in Munster to fight for the Munster championship and to fight to preserve it.”
Loughnane believes the potential of a provincial championship success sustains the GAA in some counties and revealed that he felt during his own managerial tenure with the Banner Counter that he was able to savour provincial glories more than All-Ireland wins.
“You look at a county like Clare and you think of the great achievement and celebrations when they won the football in Munster in 1992 and the hurling in Munster in 1995. It was those provincial titles which sustained the players and the supporters in those counties for several years. We must preserve it at all costs and fight our corner. I have great memories of the Munster championship from my time as a player and as a manager. The thing about winning an All-Ireland final was that it was at the end of a long season and you left Croke Park absolutely exhausted after it. But to leave Thurles in the middle of summertime after winning a Munster championship was a magical occasion and you were able to enjoy it more.”
Meanwhile Munster GAA chiefs have revealed that attendance at big championship games is falling among men and women in their 20s, with the blame being placed on the recession according to provincial council chairman Sean Walsh.
“Every family has suffered from the recession in some ways, and some have been hit more than others. We’re structuring our prices to help families come to our matches as much as we can, maybe more than we have in recent years.
“What we’re also looking at is the big drop-off, which last year and the year before was on the terraces. That would suggest that males and females in their 20s have been especially hard hit by the recession.
“Unemployment and emigration are two huge problems which are having a knock-on effect which will have to be addressed.
“It used to be that those would primarily affect rural clubs, but that has gone now — it’s affecting clubs across the board, big city clubs and small rural clubs. They’re all down players and that’s a huge challenge for the GAA.”
Walsh is hopeful that the Munster GAA ticketing package will encourage supporters to come to the big games in the south, starting with Cork and Tipperary on Sunday week in the Munster senior hurling championship.
“Our aim is that by the end of this year, people won’t be able to say that they couldn’t go to a Munster championship game in hurling or football because of the price — we aim to have a package that will suit everyone who wants to go to our games.
“We’re hoping Cork and Tipperary will be a big match for us, that it will set the tone. What we’re hearing is that attendances for live entertainment are down across the board — for pop concerts, soccer, rugby, everything. We won’t be immune, we know it may be down but we’re starting with a great game, Cork-Tipp, and we hope that kickstarts our championship. Obviously in football we don’t have the same amount of teams competing in Munster but each of the five teams in hurling will feel that on their day they can beat any of the others.”
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