Spotlight on Leinster championship again as rivals Dublin and Meath to do battle at 'half-full' Croker
Croke Park will be just about half-full for Sunday's Leinster SFC final between Dublin and Meath - with the attendance approximately 20,000 down on the same fixture five years ago.
Once again, the decline in the competitive nature of Leinster football will be reflected in the expected fall in attendance for what was once the premier fixture in the province.
According to the Leinster Council, a crowd of just over 40,000 is expected at headquarters for the meeting of the old rivals.
That would mirror last year's Leinster final crowd of 41,728 for the holders' defeat of Laois, but represents a big drop on previous Dublin-Meath finals.
As Jim Gavin's indomitable troops seek a record ninth consecutive provincial title, it's a measure of the Leinster Championship's plummeting status that the 82,300-capacity stadium might only be half-full.
"We'd hope 40 to 45,000, all going well," Leinster chairman Jim Bolger stated. While over 20,000 tickets had been pre-sold by yesterday, Bolger admitted the final attendance was still hard to call. "It's just gone unpredictable now. You don't know what Dublin turnout you will get," he added.
Bolger reported "positive enough vibes" from the Royal County in terms of supporter interest for their first Leinster SFC decider since 2014, which attracted a crowd of 62,660.
Meanwhile, Tipperary hurling boss Liam Sheedy admits they will miss the "unique" Patrick 'Bonner' Maher after confirmation of the Lorrha-Dorrha clubman's season-ending cruciate knee ligament injury.
Maher had been in inspirational form this year, recapturing much of his former influence, and the injury robs Sheedy's side of a vital cog.
Sheedy will be without his powerful half-forward and corner-back Cathal Barrett (hamstring) for Sunday week’s Munster SHC clash with Limerick in the LIT Gaelic Grounds but he insists Tipp have the panel to cope.
“He is a unique sort of player,” agreed Sheedy, who should have Niall O’Meara available once more.
“But at the same time there are a number of players that I could name off that have really good championship form and there’s other guys that are young and champing at the bit so we’re not looking to replace a Bonner with Bonner, you don’t do that, but you are looking to know if you can get the next guy to step in and play to their level.
“I’d be very, very happy and I am absolutely happy that we will find that player. The work that they’ve all put in over the last seven months, you always know with any squad that the likelihood of you getting a championship that’s as bruising as the Munster Championship, you’re not going to get through that unscathed.
“I’m devastated for the chap and gutted for Bonner personally, what he has bought to the team over the last number of weeks has been exceptional. He was in full flow and a Bonner in full flow is a very difficult man to mark.
“But the show must go on and he will be an integral part of our team even though he is not inside the white lines because he has been a really strong leader in this group, he has been there ten years at this stage.”
Elsewhere, Cork boss Ronan McCarthy has stuck with the winning formula from his team’s rout of Limerick for Saturday’s Munster SFC final against Kerry at Páirc Uí Chaoimh (7.0).
As expected, McCarthy and his selectors have opted not to make any changes to the side which will be captained by midfielder Ian Maguire.
Cork (Munster SFC final v Kerry) – M White; N Walsh, J Loughrey, K Flahive; L O’Donovan, T Clancy, M Taylor; I Maguire (capt), K O’Hanlon; E McSweeney, R Deane, J O’Rourke; P Kerrigan, B Hurley, M Collins.