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No surprise in lack of numbers

By John Campbell

The only real surprise concerning the relatively poor attendance figures to date at championship matches is that there is surprise in the first place!

Let's face it, the overall championship menu has not been the most appetising.

And given the spiralling costs of fuel, the surfeit of televised games and the perennial parking problems, it's understandable why fans are becoming rather more discerning in choosing which fixtures to attend.

Yet while other provinces lament the stay-away fans, Ulster is preparing to open its doors to even bigger numbers.

There won't be too much breathing space at Healy Park, Omagh tomorrow when Tyrone host Down and you certainly would need to be within the environs of Kingspan Breffni Park, Cavan early next Sunday when Armagh will be the visitors there.

Perhaps it's an indication, too, of the GAA's anxiety to coax out the fans that a special media launch of the Cavan v Armagh game will take place in Monaghan on Monday. Ground-breaking or what!

Of course, the arrival of Dublin on the scene tomorrow will help to keep the Croke Park turnstiles clicking. Leinster Council secretary Michael Delaney is predicting a crowd of about 45,000 to attend the Dubs' Leinster championship opener against Louth.

However, he acknowledges that, overall, attendances are suffering, mainly because of the economic turndown.

"People will pick and choose which matches they attend, especially in the earlier provincial stages because they know that even if their team is beaten, there will be another day out," he said.

"We have always acknowledged the importance of Dublin to crowds in the GAA and that won't change. Overall, though, a decline can be expected because travelling to games is a lot more expensive than it was a few years ago."

Yet the Ulster Championship still retains its special appeal. The Fermanagh v Monaghan match on Sunday week last saw Brewster Park, Enniskillen almost bulging at the seams while upwards on 18,000 followers flocked to MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey for last Sunday's Donegal v Derry clash.

GAA president Nickey Brennan believes there has been an over-reaction to the poor attendance figures. While acknowledging that the 17,365 turnout at the Clare-Waterford hurling game last Sunday was disappointing, he refused to criticise the Munster Council for the decision to stage the game in Limerick, which angered Waterford supporters.

He said: "Munster made their decision and they have to live with it. There's no doubt that the economic situation is tightening all round. Still, we had a big crowd in Ballybofey for the Donegal v Derry tie."

Tomorrow should see the attendance graph shoot upwards and there is every indication that the Ulster semi-finals will pull in huge crowds.

Ulster Council chairman Tom Daly stresses that the provincial championship continues to enjoy a very high profile.

"We are very happy to date and I think we will have some very interesting games still to come," says Daly.

Belfast Telegraph


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