Martin Breheny: Association failing to exploit hurling's box-office appeal
WEXFORD chairman Diarmuid Devereux recently told the county's GAA community that the quickest route out of the board's financial bind was via a successful hurling team.
He repeated it this week when asked for a general reaction to the GAA's 2012 accounts, which show that, given hurling's comparative strength with football on a nationwide basis, it returned a disproportionately high yield.
The figures show that hurling at the top end punches well above its weight when compared to football, which has a broader spread of counties.
That came as no surprise to Devereux, based on his experience with Wexford.
Wexford footballers have done quite well for several seasons but the support hasn't compared to what's available for the hurlers in their better times.
"The Wexford support base is suppressed. This county is a financial giant waiting to jump out of the box if the hurlers go well," said Devereux.
That can only happen if they return to the highest level, starting with an escape from Division 1B. It's no easy task in a group that also includes Dublin, Limerick, Offaly and Antrim and which offers only one promotion slot.
And there's the crux of the issue. The 2012 attendance figures show that there's huge public interest among the traditional hurling counties.
Wexford fit into that category and while they are going through a valley period at present, the public would still turn out in large numbers in Wexford Park to watch games against Kilkenny, Tipperary, Galway, Cork, Waterford and Clare.
Instead, Wexford have only two home league games this spring, against Dublin and Antrim. How wasteful is that?
Wexford are a good example of the waste which applies in terms of harnessing the public interest in hurling, but they are by no means the only one.
Several other counties have only two home league games too, although it's clear from the 2012 figures that the appetite for more action is just waiting to be tapped.
There's no valid reason why Division 1 could not be divided into two groups of five involving Kilkenny, Wexford, Dublin, Offaly, Galway, Tipperary, Cork, Limerick, Clare and Waterford, and guaranteeing each county eight games – four home, four away.
Relegation – one up, one down – would apply from there on.
No, it wouldn't lead to an over-crowded programme, since it involves only one more divisional game than in the NFL.
However, it has the distinct advantage of ensuring that the hurling public see their county in action at home four times in the February-April period.
Last year's figures show that there's a big market for games involving the leading counties.
Yet, instead of harnessing that in the interests of players, public and financial gain, the hurling league is structured in such a way as to hinder the advancement of counties like Wexford, Offaly, Limerick and Antrim.
Dublin are now caught in a similar bind after being relegated last season.
Also, serious questions have to be asked as to whether the championship system is extracting maximum gain for hurling.
The crowds and gate receipts from the summer campaign suggest that it's under-utilised too.
The health of the GAA's finances in 2012 is most encouraging for the Association, especially on the hurling side, which did better than football, proportionate to the standards which apply in either game across the country.
The overall figures were excellent but the comparison between hurling and football needs to be closely analysed.
When it comes to hurling, the returns suggest that the GAA is condemned by its own evidence.