Monday 19 August 2019

Munster hurling's popularity is soaring under new format

Crowds at Leinster football matches increased by 10 per cent despite Dublin’s dominance. Photo: Sportsfile
Crowds at Leinster football matches increased by 10 per cent despite Dublin’s dominance. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The Munster Hurling Championship has been the biggest beneficiary from the various changes to the hurling and football championships in recent years, with attendances more than doubling since the introduction of the round-robin format last season.

There was a dramatic increase of 95 per cent (up from 127,997 to 249,027) between 2017 and 2018 and the total shot up to 281,768 this year.

That's a 120 per cent increase on 2017, underlining the popularity of the 11-game format. Under the straight knockout system, the championship was run off in four games.

Remarkably, the turnout for round-robin games is, in many cases, better than under the knockout system. For example, 29,611 saw Limerick v Clare in the LIT Gaelic Grounds this year, whereas only 19,168 attended their Munster semi-final clash in Semple Stadium two years ago.

Limerick v Tipperary drew a combined attendance of 83,207 for their round robin and Munster final clashes this year.

While Munster hurling showed another surge this year, its football counterpart dropped from 51,897 to 30,731. That was put down to Kerry being 'away' to Clare in the semi-final and the lack of confidence in Cork.

At 18,265, the attendance at the Cork-Kerry final was down over 9,000 on last year.

Even without the Cavan-Armagh replay, Ulster football increased by 15 per cent on last year, and much of which may be down to restructured admission prices, following widespread criticism in 2018.

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Connacht football was down 16 per cent, due mainly to Galway and Mayo not meeting this year.

Fears that Dublin's dominance would further depress Leinster football attendances did not materialise. In fact, they increased by ten per cent to 126,034 but are still a long way short of the peak days of a decade ago.

At 144,929, Leinster hurling was marginally ahead of last year. The best-attended games involved Kilkenny/Wexford/Galway, but they were still a long way behind their Munster counterparts. The average attendance in Leinster was 13,175, compared with 25,615 in Munster. Other than the final, the best-attended Leinster game was the Kilkenny-Galway clash in Nowlan Park (15,587), where the Tribesmen won by a point over Brian Cody's men, who have since gone on to reach the All-Ireland final.

This year's football qualifiers have shown a considerable increase on last year, mostly in Rounds 3 and 4, which are up by almost 35,000. Games involving Mayo were the main draws, peaking in Round 4 where 19,183 saw them beat Galway in Limerick. That was 1,550 more than attended the Galway-Roscommon Connacht final in Pearse Stadium.

Attendances at this year's Super 8s ties have held up well, requiring a combined turnout of 40,956 in next weekend's final series of games to match last season's total of 217,400.

With big interest in Mayo v Donegal in Castlebar and Tyrone v Dublin in Omagh, that's easily achievable. Despite Meath having nothing but pride to play for against Kerry in Navan, a sizeable crowd is expected, but the Cork-Roscommon clash in Páirc Uí Rinn will have the unfortunate distinction of recording the lowest Super 8s attendance so far.

The straight knockout quarter-finals were watched by a combined attendance of 127,997 two years ago, so while the Super 8s format continues to have its critics, it has added 90,000 per annum.

Irish Independent

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