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Biting Back: Irish FA need to sell themselves

When I first began writing for this newspaper, the Ulster rugby team's matches were invariably watched by two men and a dog while Irish League football hogged the headlines; the only show in a troubled town.

Fast forward a decade or three and Friday night found me once again marvelling at the Ravenhill experience and despairingly wondering if my first love, football, will ever win hearts and minds here again in the same way going to Windsor, The Oval and Mourneview captivated my generation. More fans, 11,000, attended Ulster's win over Scarlets than paid to see the entire weekend programme in the Irish League.

Times and tastes have changed; the country (or parts of it) has moved on to the extent we have now become a nation of event people. The game, any game, is no longer the sole attraction for vast numbers of paying customers at places like Ravenhill, Down Royal, the North West 200, Drumbo Dogs, the Giants and the big county matches in gaelic. They are places to see and be seen, enjoy a refreshment or three, be entertained and to come away filled with a sense of occasion. A crowd attracts a crowd.

More public money than ever is pouring into Irish League football in the shape of much-needed ground improvement funding from Stormont. But it will be money down the drain if those at the Irish FA charged with running the domestic game fail to sail with the tide of change and begin to market and promote a decent product better than at present.

They need to sell themselves like Ulster Rugby, Down Royal, Drumbo, the North West, the gaelic and the ice hockey. And if they need a lead, take one from Ravenhill. Dogs are no longer admitted.

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