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Comment: GAA chiefs must do much more to improve 'brutal' opening to Super 8s era

By Declan Bogue

So, what did the first ever weekend of the Super8s feel like for you? Me first? Okay then, it was as nutritious as a bellyful of candy floss.

If hurling had not been invented, Gaelic football would be a grand sport in itself.

With more games among the sport's elite, a lot of football people were expecting they would experience the same kind of effect that exploded when the best teams in the Munster and Leinster Hurling Championships began playing each other week in, week out.

This was to be the league - the GAA's greatest football competition - on a summer sod. However, it didn't work out like that. The weekend was a flop. The attendances were awful. The games were brutal. The scheduling was criminal.

There are serious lessons to learn here, starting with the very title of what to call this thing.

Right now, we are all working off the Super8s handle. Given it was a top-of-the-head remark by Dick Clerkin, it wasn't bad at all.

The GAA don't like the name, feeling that it denotes a superiority complex on those that qualify and an inferiority complex on those that don't. Instead, they would prefer what they term on their press releases: 'The GAA Football All-Ireland Quarter-finals Phase 2 games'. Catchy, eh?

Unfortunately, this malaise goes right back to a sense that the GAA have never felt a need to market their own games. For a century, loyalty to your county sold itself. That era is long over now and people are far more discerning over how they spend their time, which for many included switching over from Kerry and Galway on Sunday to watch an exciting World Cup final - more of which later.

Right now, there are around a dozen professionals working in a loose promotional sense in the GAA, between Croke Park and various provincial councils. Yet when the GAA require a marketing campaign for a league season, they seek out an external marketing firm with no obvious links to the game to produce a few roller banners with banal and grammatically incorrect lines such as 'Unexpect the Expected'.

They need to trust their own people, those who are immersed in this sporting culture. Bring them all in for a three-day residential at the start of the year, put them up in the Croke Park hotel and don't let them leave the room until they have an impressive marketing campaign for the National League and Championship.

Another problem was the stadium itself. Back in 2002, an All-Ireland quarter-final double-header with Armagh-Sligo and Kerry-Galway attracted 59,252 to Croke Park. On Sunday, Kerry and Galway coupled with the even better supported Monaghan and Kildare had 30,740 in attendance.

16 years after the re-opening, we can safely say the thrill has disappeared for fans. Chiefs still haven't made any inroads into the massive tourism population of Dublin.

A game can be enhanced if things are at stake and there was plenty at stake in the closing stages of the last three games of the weekend. However, nothing sucks the atmosphere out more than a cavernous Croke Park.

If one of the benefits of the Super 8s is to 'take the games to the people', then the Donegal-Dublin game should be a standalone fixture in Clones next year. The chances are that Congress in 2019 will sort out the glitch that gives Dublin more home games than the others, so just imagine how the old railway town would wrap its arms around a game like that.

A lot of this is down to trial and error, but the GAA could do so much more to attract people to their games. Having the throw-up to potentially the most attractive game of the weekend at the same time as the World Cup final kicked off was thinking that belonged to another era. The justification for it, and the statement that 'true fans' would head to Croke Park instead of watching the soccer, was an insult to the intelligence of the public.

A lot of this is peripheral stuff. But in the face of falling attendances in Ulster and nationally, it becomes essential.

Smaller venues are a good start. Making it difficult to get a ticket transforms a game into something more desirable.

Tailgate parties, fan zones - these would take little imagination but the effects could be brilliant.

There are some that would say that a good game does not need to market itself. That is only halfway to the truth. As entertaining as the Clare-Wexford hurling game was, a crowd of just 10,255 went to Cork to see it.

They could try all of these things. Or they could just do nothing.

And that hasn't worked.

Belfast Telegraph

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