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Comment: GAA must seek tourist trade to tackle dwindling attendances

By Declan Bogue

One thing that cannot be ignored is the odd atmosphere and reduced crowds for the weekend's All-Ireland football semi-finals.

There was a sense that after the first year of the new system played itself out, the GAA would need to take a serious review of things, and this is an area they must target.

A crowd of 49,496 attended Tyrone and Monaghan on Sunday and 54,716 at Dublin-Galway on Saturday can be seen in no other context than utterly disappointing.

Especially when you consider that in every year since 2002 and the re-opening of Croke Park, a semi-final involving Dublin has attracted over 80,000.

However, the laws of unintended consequences was always going to apply to the Super8s.

Rather than attend a drab semi-final win over Galway, how much more attractive was it to Dublin fans to save their money for an overnight stay in Omagh after the Tyrone game?

This was Tyrone's ninth Championship game in 12 weeks, with away games in Carlow, Portlaoise, Croke Park (Roscommon), Meath, Brewster Park (Cavan) and Ballybofey for Donegal.

All in, Tyrone have clocked up 1,449 kilometres on the road this year.

Monaghan is one of the lowest populated counties in Ireland. And their diesel costs have been even more severe as the total kilometres was 1,893 before last weekend due to trips to Omagh (Ulster semi-final), Leitrim, Waterford, Laois, Croke Park (Kildare) and Galway.

If the GAA can no longer rely on the traditional support from either county to fill their stadiums, then it is time for them to finally engage with the tourism sector and sell Croke Park as something for tourists to tick off the list.

On the shelf here beside me is a book entitled 'Ireland's Professional Amateurs', written by Andy Mendlowitz.

It's a charming year of Gaelic games as seen through the eyes of somebody who simply happened upon a Clare v Kilkenny hurling game when the American sports-mad dork landed in Dublin during a spell of travelling Europe.

What struck him was that the sports were virtually hidden from sight. No pamphlets in the guest houses, no billboards in the city advertising an upcoming game and ticket availability.

It's time this was taken in hand by the GAA themselves.

Belfast Telegraph

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