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Comment: Gaelic football attendances on the slide as fans get priced out

By Declan Bogue

Don't know if you noticed, but hurling is having quite a moment for itself right now.

Last weekend brought us the full effect of this new Technicolor method of running their affairs, with round robin systems in Munster and Leinster.

It led to games like the astonishing comeback from Tipperary, when they clawed back a nine-point gap at half-time against Cork.

Out west, the very first Leinster Championship game played in Galway ended with the home side enjoying one of those oh so rare comfortable wins over Kilkenny.

The first Championship game in Ennis since 1997 featured a welcome win for home side Clare over Waterford.

Such is the standard of play, and the quantity of quality games in the revamped system, that it begs the question if hurling should ever really be played in the winter months. There is little comparison between the sport in different seasons.

It's not such a rosy outlook in general for football. The shocks so far, with those wins for Carlow and Longford grabbing our attention, have masked a general apathy around the Championships to date.

Ulster have a number of problems emerging. Not all change is good and they have witnessed carnage in the restructuring of the Championship.

Last year, it took six weeks to reach the semi-final stage. This year it has taken four and, with the weekend double-headers, attendances have suffered.

The worst mistake thus far was the staging of Antrim and Down at the same time as Liverpool took on Real Madrid. The Ulster Council might have thought back to 2011, when they hosted an Armagh v Down game in the Athletic Grounds the same night Manchester United played Barcelona in the Champions League Final.

Over 13,107 paid into Armagh that night. But a mere 5,589 turned up in Newry on Saturday evening.

To set it in context, the same teams played in 2000 - and over 16,500 were there in Casement Park.

The Ulster Council will point out that having two games a weekend cuts down on the potential for a walk-up crowd, but the increase in ticket prices, including starting to charge for under-16s, is testing their theory on elasticity of demand.

Sinn Fein's call to cut the admission prices is just opportunism at this stage. A prolonged lobbying campaign over the winter is where it is most sorely needed.

Belfast Telegraph

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