Wednesday 24 January 2018

Summer starts here as old rivalry provides a bumper boost to GAA

MARIE CROWE

THIS is the first big bumper weekend of the summer for the GAA. Last night's qualifier game between Kerry and Tyrone drew in the region of 25,000 fans to Fitzgerald Stadium. The turnout in Killarney made it the largest attendance for a qualifier game outside Croke Park.

Today's Leinster final between Dublin and Meath is set to be the biggest sporting event in Ireland so far this summer. In 2001 a crowd of 66,275 watched Meath beat Dublin in the final and that number should be exceeded in Croke Park this afternoon.

By close of business on Friday evening, almost 55,000 tickets had been sold for the meeting of these old rivals, and that -- combined with almost 10,000 corporate tickets and further ticket sales yesterday and this morning -- should see Croke Park hold its biggest crowd for a match this year.

"It will be close to sell out, we're expecting almost 70,000, there is a huge interest in it from the two counties," said John Greene, the PRO of the Leinster Council.

"Before the 2011 Leinster final we had eight qualifiers on the Saturday night and seven of the 16 teams were from Leinster, but this time round we only had Laois and Kildare in qualifier action last night and there were only four games so that will help as well. Meath and Dublin is the biggest game of the weekend."

Former Offaly footballer Matt Connor will be inducted into the Leinster hall of fame beforehand and the Dublin and Meath teams from 1991 who played in the first game of the famous four-match saga will also be honoured.

And the Leinster final isn't the only game expected to attract a big crowd today. The Ulster final between Donegal and Down in Clones is also likely to be almost sold out, with 30,000 expected to turn out.

The combined attendances of the weekend's Gaelic football games, including yesterday's qualifiers in Carrick-on-Shannon, O'Moore Park and Thurles, should see over 130,000 spectators pass through the turnstiles and generate in excess of €2.5m in gate receipts for the GAA.

Meanwhile, Ciaran Kilkenny could make an appearance in the Dublin starting 15 today despite not being named in the original line-up. There is speculation that the exciting teenage prospect could line out in the full-forward line, with Michael Darragh Macauley moving out to mid-field and Eamon Fennell being relegated to the bench.

Dublin manager Pat Gilroy has a hole to fill in the full-forward line with Diarmuid Connolly suspended after his red card in the Leinster semi-final victory over Wexford. Kilkenny, who has just completed his Leaving Cert, was the standout player for the Dublin minors last year and also starred for this year's under 21 team. He made his debut for the seniors against Wexford and could get his first senior start today.

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