Analysis: Appeal of big ball lost in the crowd as semi-final hurling attendances eclipses gaelic football's for the first time since 2009
IN the absence of a close-run contest of near-equals, it was the big talking point in Croke Park on Saturday night: all the empty spaces.
What onlookers may not have realised, even after the Dublin v Galway attendance of just 54,717 was announced, was the significance attached. And that became even more apparent after Sunday’s second SFC semi-final, between Tyrone and Monaghan, brought 49,496 through the turnstiles.
The Herald has conducted a 10-year audit of All-Ireland semi-final attendances, in both codes from 2009 onwards, culminating in last weekend (see table below).
The results add statistical weight to a suspicion that many observers have formed during a summer that has seen the GAA landscape totally dominated by hurling, with a narrative of endless comebacks, deadlocks and replays leaving football eclipsed by the so-called ‘minority’ sport.
Here are the most notable findings...
(1) This year’s combined football semi-final attendance of 104,213 is the lowest of the last 10 years. It even dips below the 2009 figure of 104,262 – the last time Dublin footballers were not involved.
(2) The Dublin-Galway crowd of 54,717 constituted a 35.5 per cent drop on the full house present for last year’s Dublin-Tyrone encounter.
(3) It’s the first time this decade that Dublin’s last-four crowd has fallen below 80,000. From 2010-17 they featured in eight consecutive semis – plus one replay – and broke the 80,000 barrier each time.
(4) It’s the lowest Dublin semi-final crowd since 52,606 saw their 1995 clash with Cork. In the era of the new Croke Park, their 2002 defeat to Armagh (79,386) was the only example to go below 80,000.
(5) The irony is that when you exclude replays, last year’s combined SFC semi-final attendance was the highest this decade. The Mayo-Kerry draw and Dublin-Tyrone delivered a cumulative 148,495. This year’s figure represents a drop of 44,282, almost 30 per cent.
Delve deeper and you’ll find that football’s loss has been hurling’s gain. This is the first year since 2009 that the two hurling semi-final crowds have eclipsed the football total. We’re not including the Galway-Clare replay, which brought an additional 44,246 to Thurles nine days ago.
Here are the most eye-catching comparative trends...
(1) The Galway-Clare stalemate and Limerick-Cork clash were watched by a combined 125,264 – 21,051 above football’s shrivelling benchmark.
(2) It’s the first time this has happened when the Dublin footballers were involved. Back in ’09, when the two hurling semi-finals edged the attendance battle by 1,508, the Dubs had already crashed out.
(3) Last year’s attendance figures for hurling were actually significantly higher than 2018. The two semi-finals were watched by 140,206, but this was still 8,289 below the equivalent football figure.
Football’s 12-month fall-off is headline news. There are many explanations, but Oisin McConville, who knows all about playing in semi-finals, cut to the chase on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday.
“Fans are zoning out. It’s very difficult to get a top class game,” the former Armagh star said. “I was at the Limerick-Cork hurling semi-final and it’s alarming the difference in excitement and atmosphere.”
TALE OF THE GATES
10-year Football and hurling semi-final attendances (*Replays excluded)
HURLING: Kilkenny v Waterford 61,962; Tipperary v Limerick 43,808. TOTAL: 105,770
FOOTBALL: Cork v Tyrone 53,492; Kerry v Meath 50,770. TOTAL: 104,262
HURLING: Kilkenny v Cork41,060; Tipperary v Waterford 49,754. TOTAL: 90,814
FOOTBALL: Cork v Dublin 80,225; Down v Kildare 62,182. TOTAL: 142,407
ADVANTAGE: Football 51,593
HURLING: Kilkenny v Waterford 31,638; Tipperary v Dublin 43,562. TOTAL: 75,200
FOOTBALL: Kerry v Mayo 50,643; Dublin v Donegal 81,436. TOTAL: 132,079
ADVANTAGE: Football 56,879
HURLING :Galway v Cork 41,537; Kilkenny v Tipperary 50,220. TOTAL: 91,759
FOOTBALL: Donegal v Cork 55,169; Mayo v Dublin 81,364. TOTAL: 136,533
ADVANTAGE: Football 44,774
HURLING :Cork v Dublin 62,114; Clare v Limerick 62,962. TOTAL: 125,076
FOOTBALL: Mayo v Tyrone 65,345; Dublin v Kerry 81,553. TOTAL: 146,898
HURLING: Kilkenny v Limerick 45,478; Tipperary v Cork 68,741. TOTAL: 114,219
FOOTBALL: Kerry v Mayo (draw) 52,495; Donegal v Dublin 81,500. TOTAL: 133,995
ADVANTAGE: Football 19,776
HURLING: Kilkenny v Waterford 41,112; Galway v Tipperary 58,495. TOTAL: 99,607
FOOTBALL: Kerry v Tyrone 53,044; Dublin v Mayo(draw) 82,300.TOTAL: 135,344
ADVANTAGE: Football 35,737
HURLING: Kilkenny v Waterford 34,729; Tipperary v Galway 54,227. TOTAL: 88,956
FOOTBALL: Mayo v Tipperary 53,661; Dublin v Kerry 80,250. TOTAL: 133,911
ADVANTAGE: Football 44,955
HURLING: Galway v Tipperary 68,184; Waterford v Cork 72,022. TOTAL: 140,206
FOOTBALL: Mayo v Kerry (draw) 66,195; Dublin v Tyrone 82,300. TOTAL: 148,495
HURLING: Galway v Clare(draw) 54,191; LimerickvCork 71,073. TOTAL: 125,264
FOOTBALL: Dublin v Galway54,717; Tyrone v Monaghan 49,496.TOTAL: 104,213
ADVANTAGE: Hurling 21,051