Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Joe Kernan: Lower the prices GAA, that is just the ticket

To say that we are living in challenging financial times would be something of an understatement.

Certainly, cash is somewhat conspicuous by its absence on so many fronts right now.

And this makes it all the more incongruous just why the GAA should be making what I believe to be unacceptable demands on its supporters.

What started as a ripple of protest against the current admission prices to AIB Ulster Club Championship matches has now morphed into downright disenchantment with the GAA as a whole on the part of many people.

The general consensus is all too clear - £12 (€15) is far too much, particularly in the present financial climate, even though there is generally a curtain-raiser before the main match.

And if further evidence is required that people are beginning to vote with their feet, then it arrived on Sunday.

I was a (far from neutral!) spectator at the Crossmaglen Rangers v St Eunan’s Ulster semi-final clash at Brewster Park, Enniskillen where there were far too many empty stand seats for my liking. And my spies tell me that there were similar unpopulated areas at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh where Ballinderry met Cavan Gaels.

Take into consideration that these were two attractive pairings with much at stake, that the weather was excellent and that both venues have been dramatically transformed into two of the best in the province.

The conclusion? Price was the factor that militated against healthier crowds, more’s the pity.

Surely it would make sense, for instance, to put a family ticket on offer for something like £15 in order to entice people through the turnstiles.

I am well aware that students are charged £5 and that those Under 16 are admitted free but the carrot of a reasonably-priced family ticket would spark its own level of demand.

When you consider that supporters - and bear in mind both semi-finals were played at neutral grounds - have to pay for fuel, food, programmes and incidentals, it can be quickly seen that, under current admission prices, a family day out at a club championship contest can be an expensive exercise.

I would wholeheartedly support any initiative aimed at wooing fans to matches at this time of the year.

Obviously, the fair weather fans will be there in the summer - there was nothing fair about the weather when Armagh met Wexford, though! - but I think an extra effort on the part of the powers-that-be is required to sustain strong support for our games in the autumn and winter months.

In the past, followers had every justification for railing against clubs and county boards for a perceived lack of amenities at venues.

That certainly does not hold water now - not only are our leading grounds spacious and comfortable for the most part but they boast excellent playing surfaces and state-of-the-art floodlights.

Crossmaglen Rangers have just unveiled their spanking new playing surface and even though two games took place there on Sunday week last, there was hardly a footprint discernible on the perfect surface.

Naturally, having ‘pitched in’ with such a superb arena, the Rangers will be very keen to make it three AIB Ulster Club titles on the trot when they face Ballinderry in the decider on Sunday week.

Rangers came back strongly against St Eunan’s when they found themselves 0-6 to 0-2 down and eventually secured their passage into the final although I was most impressed with Rory Kavanagh, David McGinley, Ross Wherity, Kevin Rafferty, John Haran and Conal Dunne in the Donegal champions’ line-up.

And Ballinderry showed their mettle in the second-half against Cavan Gaels, their 0-17 to 0-7 victory margin underlining their dominance.

The Derry title-holders, with Niall McCusker, James Conway, Enda Muldoon, Kevin McGuckin, Raymond Wilkinson, Collie Devlin, Michael McIver and Conleith Gilligan forming the core of their team, turned in a storming second-half performance after the Gaels were unfortunately stripped of the services of Seanie Johnston and Paul O’Donnell early through injury.

It’s all systems go for the final, a bridge that Ballinderry will certainly be hoping to Cross in style this time!

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