When Down and Wexford along with Mayo and Tyrone contested their third round matches in the All Ireland football qualifiers at Croke Park last Saturday, it had been anticipated that the attendance might have been in the region of 40,000.
In the event, just over 27,000 fans travelled to Headquarters and when it is considered that four counties were involved this certainly proved something of a disappointment.
Indifferent weather, spiralling costs of travel, the live televising of both games and the ‘inconvenience’ still associated with Saturday fixtures combined to impact adversely on the turn-out. GAA chiefs comforted themselves with the notion that things would get better on the following day.
But despite the euphoria that surrounded Monaghan’s prospects against Kerry and the buoyancy that has infiltrated Kieran McGeeney’s Lily Whites in particular, some 38,000 followers paid in to watch a desperately disappointing Fermanagh v Kildare clash and a Monaghan v Kerry tie that was more tense than thrilling.
Given the below-average turn-outs last weekend, it’s hardly surprising that the Croke authorities are keeping their fingers crossed that the turnstiles will be clicking more merrily this weekend.
Armagh will bring their usual huge army of fans and Wexford followers, scarcely able to take in the fact that their team is within striking distance of the All Ireland semi-finals, will be out in numbers to cheer on their heroes who comfortably hurdled Ross Carr’s disappointing Down side last saturday. But Kerry and Galway are hardly likely to enhance the gate receipts considerably. Kerry fans, notorious for their frugal approach, will, in keeping with tradition, await their side’s anticipated arrival in the All Ireland Final before putting their hands into their pockets.
And Galway supporters, who saw their side stave off a feisty challenge from Mayo in the Connacht final, can hardly feel too optimistic about their team’s chances and this might persuade them to settle for the live televising of the game.
But the anxiety being felt in Croke Park is in sharp contrast to the satisfaction experienced within the Ulster Council right now. The provincial football Championship, won by Armagh after a replay, showed an upward swing of 27 per cent over last year in terms of overall attendance.
In all, some 209,000 fans paid to watch the fare on offer and in doing so made Ulster the brand leaders in terms of drama, entertainment value and passion.
The figure provides further testimony to the huge interest the Championship generates.