Colm Keys: 'GAA should take the lead this time over Croke Park venue issue for Super 8s'
There were some 16,971 fewer supporters, 36,530 down from 53,501, in Croke Park on Saturday evening than there were for the corresponding 'Croke Park' round of the All-Ireland quarter-final series involving Dublin last year.
Three of the four teams were involved in both years but Cork replacing Donegal would be a significant factor in the drop, given the size of the respective travelling supports and the fact that Cork were at the same venue a week earlier which has both time and financial implications for them.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
Another factor is that Croke Park now hosts the middle round of the three, as opposed to the first round last year, and that a natural fall-off after the first round will always exist.
The centrepiece pairing, Dublin and Roscommon, was also less attractive to the neutral and even both participating counties, because of the competitive element, than Dublin and Donegal which was the centrepiece game 12 months ago.
That said, for a quarter-final game involving Dublin on their own doorstep, or home ground if you want to put it like that, it was a disappointment. Dublin, of course, won the game at a canter, making sure of their place in an All-Ireland semi-final without having to rest their collective heads on an unfamiliar pillow, having swatted away an irritating Cork seven days earlier.
For all the protestation and agitation of Donegal and others last year, the champions' route to the penultimate stages was actually more convenient this time around. The 'tweak' of giving provincial champions home venue first has worked nicely in their favour.
The venue debate has been in play for more than a year now, intensifying prior to the Donegal game last year, dropping again but rising again when Donegal slated a motion at their convention for Congress that would prevent teams from using Croke Park as a home venue and where it was soundly beaten.
But that doesn't mean it is any less relevant now than it was then.
In fact, the provision of two Croke Park games, back-to-back, for Dublin in this series only serves to portray the current imbalance in the structuring of the new format in an even sharper light.
For sure, it wouldn't have altered Saturday night's result against Roscommon too much if it had been played in Tullamore or Portlaoise. But that's not the point.
And it wasn't the point, either, when Donegal went after the Croke Park 'home' game earlier this year.
Dublin's right to play their 'home' game where they want was left in place.
But if the Super 8s series is to stay, the GAA, not the counties, should take the lead in making provision for diluting the 'Croke Park' round to a neutral round, if the pairings suit that to avoid conveying that advantage on the champions.
The capacity argument, and consequently the revenue argument the GAA will make, for games involving Dublin in Croke Park is diminishing all the time with their dominance and familiarity with Croke Park, honed through a decade of home league games played there, impacting on crowds attending.
The novelty has worn off to the point where Dublin supporters are clearly bored of turkey shoots each week, hence the falling numbers.
Obviously, a Dublin-Kerry clash as provincial champions, as is likely to happen next year, could bring a different dynamic but even then, would Semple Stadium in Thurles not be convenient for a fixture of this nature?
Where possible, no county should be able to play two Croke Park games in a Super 8s series so that any question of imbalance to the format is removed.
With Dublin as provincial champions, a status they are likely to enjoy for some time to come, choosing Croke Park as their home venue, four All-Ireland quarter-finals will still be played there, just not on the same weekend.
Statistics show that Dublin are more likely to win a Croke Park game than a game at any other venue by up to four points.
It's a long shot but if points difference did kick in, then two games at a venue where they are well proven, over the last decade, to win by bigger margins, would be crucial. And unfair. The GAA needs to be seen to remove any perception of favouritism towards one county in that regard.
And by taking the first step in reducing their Croke Park exposure and the convenience it provides (routine, same dressing-room etc) they can go some way to achieving that.