Attendance figures make good reading for Croke Park bean counters
THE GAA are back on track to surpass the 1.4 million attendance mark for the All-Ireland senior championships following a significant recovery since the end of the provincial championships.
An expected attendance of 60,000 at the Down-Kildare football semi-final on Sunday, followed by capacity crowds at both finals, would leave the total attendance for the championship season at 1,456,725, a mere 36,602 (2.3pc) down on last year.
That's well within the swing that occurs from season to season depending on various pairings, both at provincial and All-Ireland level. Attendances at the football qualifiers increased by 70,000 this year due mainly to Dublin's arrival at the second-round stage, unlike the previous five seasons when they bypassed the qualifiers by winning the Leinster title. Dublin's advance to the All-Ireland semi-final was also a bonus for the GAA.
However, Dublin's defeat in this year's Leinster semi-final was a major contributory factor in the drop in the province's overall football attendance, which was down over 58,000.
Connacht football showed an increase due to the Galway-Sligo replay; Munster football was marginally down, while Ulster decreased by around 15,000. Leinster hurling was up 15,000 while, despite a replay in the final, Munster hurling dropped by 17,000.
That was largely due to the negative public reaction to playing the Clare-Waterford Munster semi-final on the June Bank Holiday Monday and to the low interest level in the other semi-final, where Cork easily beat a weakened Limerick team.
The drop in provincial attendances, followed by an increase in interest in the qualifiers, will inevitably lead to questions as to whether a cost-conscious public are waiting for the knockout games before committing themselves.
However, the pairings -- both in the provincial championships and the qualifiers -- have an important bearing on attendances, especially in the early stages, so it's inevitable that there are fluctuations from season to season.
Despite coming close to last year's attendance figures, the financial yield will be lower than 2009 as various cut-price ticket offers have been in operation throughout the season. They also apply for Sunday's semi-final where tickets for children (accompanied by an adult) cost just €5 each.
Continuing to beat the 1.4 million attendance barrier in these recessionary times is a major boost for the GAA, especially in a World Cup year when, traditionally, there's a drop in June to early July. That applied again this year but was followed by an upward trend.