'Disappointing' crowds cast doubt on future of Rules series, admits Duffy
AUSTRALIAN apathy could kill the International Rules game.
A drop of almost 50pc in attendance at the first Test in Melbourne last Friday has raised serious questions about the future of the series.
Describing the turnout as "disappointing", GAA director general Paraic Duffy acknowledged that the hybrid game is not generating the same level of interest in Australia as in Ireland.
"When you have only two countries involved in a competition and one, through attendance figures, suggests a certain apathy, it certainly raises questions long term," he said.
A crowd of 22,921 -- down almost 20,000 on 2008 -- attended the opener, leaving the Australian Football League (AFL) with a big challenge for the second Test in their first International Rules venture in Gold Coast on Friday.
The task is made all the more difficult by Ireland's 44-point lead from the first game.
Duffy is concerned that dwindling attendances in Australia will have a knock-on effect in Ireland, making it unaffordable to continue.
"It must remain cost-neutral. We keep our home gate receipts and the profit that we make goes to fund the tour to Australia," he said.
"If numbers fall here in Australia, I think inevitably they will start to fall in Ireland.
"That would cause an issue because then we simply couldn't afford it. We wouldn't pay for this to any great degree out of normal GAA funding."
The GAA will be meeting the AFL later in the week to review the series, which is due for a gap year in 2012 prior to resuming a year later.
However, it remains to be seen if the two-year cycle for 2013-14 is activated.
"If you go back over a number of years, attendances here (Australia) have been in decline but they have held up very well in Ireland," said Duffy.
While heavy rain, which deluged Melbourne prior to Friday's game, led to a crowd reduction, Duffy said it was disappointing that the 30,000 barrier hadn't been beaten.
The GAA remains committed to the International Rules, as it gives footballers a chance to represent Ireland, but the series can only survive if the Australians show a similar interest.
A much-reduced crowd and a 44-point defeat in the first Test is a major negative.
Now the focus switches to Gold Coast, where Friday's second Test will be played in a stadium with a 25,000 capacity. A small crowd could mean the end of the series.