Colm O'Rourke: There is some method in this midweek madness
Published 31/01/2010 | 05:00
For much of the GAA's 126-year existence, there has only been one day in the week when it comes to games. Sunday morning was for Mass and the afternoon for football. It served a purpose but as neolithic GAA man has begun to emerge from the ice age over the last 20 years or so, he has realised there is a new era of equality and that Sunday afternoon is not completely a male preserve. This is family time.
The GAA reaction has been one of flexibility, more games on Saturdays either under lights or during the evening when the qualifiers in the championship take centre stage.
The effect on club football has been to cramp space more. Live TV means Sunday afternoon is out while more games on Saturdays often reduces crowds at club matches. On two occasions over the last few months I have seen the future (I did not climb any mountain and I would not know what the promised land looked like even if I saw it). Rather it was something much more ordinary.
Last November, the Meath senior championship final finished level on a Sunday and the replay was on the following Thursday night because the Leinster club championship was taking place on the weekend. (Don't ask why it took so long to finish the championship as it would take an army to put all the worms back in the can.) Anyway, there were nearly 2,000 more people at the replay midweek than there was on the Sunday afternoon and the atmosphere under lights seemed far better too.
Last Wednesday night, Meath and Dublin played under lights in an O'Byrne Cup game. The opposition was the Manchester derby on TV yet there was a huge attendance, maybe close to 10,000 when you include all the freebies, pensioners -- when you stand at a turnstile anyone over 50 classifies themselves as warranting a free pass -- students and U16s, which is anyone who looks under 25.
In general, there is an allergy among a lot of GAA supporters to paying into games so as a rule I always double the official crowd. And the public got great value for a tenner and better value if you did not pay in at all. A competitive match, even if the standard was not very high, and a grandstand finish. Only a couple of the Dublin team which lost by a point will likely see action in the sun but the foot soldiers are getting a chance to earn some stripes. Similarly with Meath but with a few more regulars thrown in.
What it did show, however, is the appetite for midweek games and there is no reason why some matches in the upcoming National League could not be tried on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday nights. Of course it would have to involve neighbouring counties but it would probably mean a sizeable increase in the gate as modern man and woman spends the weekend in the company of partner, dog and children and often all three. So no time for football.
These midweek games attract far more young people too and there would be many more opportunities for promoting games in the local schools. Naturally, there will be concerns about the ability of players to get to games but if it meant compensation for having to leave work earlier then there would still be more for everyone from a bigger cake.
Other benefits would also include much more publicity as there could be more live matches on TV during the week while there might be a chance of a greater level of printed word exposure in the daily newspapers at a time when rugby is increasingly dominant. A floodlit midweek league is the way forward. Clubs would be delighted too. They could have some access to their players at weekends in the early part of the year. As it stands,
few county players appear more than half a dozen times for their clubs before June. And if the county team is finished early, the club run the risk of their student players taking the first flight to Boston, Chicago or New York.
So the midweek match is win-win as long as the venue is right. In Navan, the pitch is absolutely superb and the ground capacity is not too big.
What is needed for good atmosphere is a maximum capacity of about 15,000 and there should be no other ground in the country built bigger than that from now on. We have far too many venues of double or treble that capacity, grounds which are nothing more than monuments to GAA vanity. We have been influenced more by communist dictators than we like to think.
Time then to change. Saturday night games are a great success so more late-night extensions are worth a try. Why not even look at a Monday night special? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.