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Thu 02-Apr-2009 21:39
More from this writer..
Tackling our league problems
Emmet Moloney writes for the 'Farmers Journal' and is a former sports columnist with 'The Kerryman'.
Are we getting the most out of hurling? After a few disappointing crowds last Sunday, Emmet Moloney asks if the game needs a stimulus package...
The hour has gone forward and that means the summer can’t be far behind. The floodlights can soon be dispensed with, and a team serious about doing something this championship has to be showing the signs about now.
I went to three hurling matches last Sunday. One was an under-14 final; one was a minor challenge, and one was a National Hurling League tie in Cusack Park. The most enjoyable sixty minutes was the Clare Féile final between Clarecastle and Clonlara. The Magpies (Clarecastle) won well, and can now look forward to the Féile itself in June.
The buzz in our village on Sunday night was infectious. The manager held court as only he can, and the underage match was the only item on the agenda. A special word to Clonlara as well. Their team were on the receiving end of a heavy beating, as these underages matches sometimes go, but they hurled with discipline and enthusiasm right to the end. That’s the beauty of watching under-14s; not an ounce of cynicism on display.
What a contrast to Cusack Park, a game that cost me and the 3,000 on hand €14. I don’t begrudge the GAA their few pound, and I have no problem with Kilkenny beating Clare in first gear. My county gave their all, and it wasn’t close to being good enough.
But there are other worrying signs. The crowd was very small considering the fact that the All-Ireland champions, and possibly the greatest hurling team of our lifetime, were in town. It seems the league has lost public interest, and this is something the GAA have to take a long, hard look at. The papers on Monday told me only 4,500 went to Páirc Ui Chaoimh. Two Munster counties were on show, and this was the Cork team’s first time on home turf since returning to the fold. A crowd of 4,500? Something must be wrong there.
Attendances this summer will be down. Of that there is no doubt. It is probably time to review the GAA’s policy regarding live television. Instead of getting out in the fresh air on Sunday afternoons, it is now far too easy to sit in front of the TV and watch two matches on TG4. Wonderful as this service is, it is keeping patrons from the turnstiles. Thinking hats will have to be put on. Double headers are an obvious attraction. Why county footballers and hurlers can’t be on the same bill is beyond me. Surely the schedule can be altered to allow that to happen next year? The day of the dual player seems to be well and truly over, so this could be done with little or no pain to county managers. Imagine the Galway hurlers and footballers playing all their home games on the same afternoon!
It goes without saying that value for money is becoming a huge issue. The floating supporter can sit at home and watch two matches without getting up from the chair. Spending €14 or €15 to watch two teams going through the motions in March or April doesn’t appeal.
Our leagues are now mere warm-ups for the championship. The games mean nothing in truth, and the competition is dying. Who remembers the teams relegated from Division 1 and Division 2 in 2008? What manager is judged on his league results? Linking the league to the championship is an obvious solution. When the GAA decided Division 4 football teams couldn’t avail of the “backdoor” in the qualifiers, it made sense, and should have provided a spark to that division. Instead, it sparked a response from the managers of teams involved in Division 4. Naturally, the GAA rolled over. That rule is to die quietly.
It should be revisited and expanded. We need to create an elite competition as our national league. Teams need to take it seriously, and pay the penalty if they don’t. Imagine a relegated Clare being omitted from the Liam McCarthy Cup competition as a result – or how about the Dublin footballers running the same risk? Wouldn’t that spice up the games?
Of course, actually marketing of the games themselves would also help. In America, they are the experts at this. Baseball teams offer a free hat or a ball on some weekday nights to boost crowds. There are reduced admission prices, and despite the fact that baseball teams play 162 games a year, and every one of them is live on television, crowds are never a problem.
As recently as 10 years ago, all the Munster hurling championship matches were sell-outs. Today, the Munster final isn’t even a hard ticket to get. Our qualifier system is a half-assed compromise that now puts off the business end of the championships until August. We have totally unique national games in hurling and football, and our serious knockout encounters only happen in August and September. With 12 months in the year, only one or two matter.
Only the Dublin footballers buck the national trend. Without them, Croke Park would only be filled twice a year for GAA occasions. Those big days in June and July when the Jacks think they are going to win the All-Ireland are papering over a lot of cracks.
These are the challenges the GAA must meet head on. The games themselves are secure, but we could get so much more out of them. Rugby, in particular, has gotten its act together and, like all competition, it should make us healthier. But we are still far too slow to embrace much needed change.
In the space of 10 years, the rugby landscape has been demolished and replaced by a much more efficient model. Kilkenny apart, I would suggest the game of hurling has actually regressed in that time. It needs a stimulus package of some kind.
Today, intercounty hurling seems to be more about preparations than actual playing. That’s where the emphasis lies in 2009. How much training are we doing, how much body fat do we have, how many sessions do we need a week . . . We need to correct that imbalance.
Look at the crowd that will attend this weekend’s Magners League match between Munster and Leinster. This league is only a few years old, but already the public’s imagination has been captured. Thanks to that league, Munster and Leinster play almost every week of the season. These games count, and they draw big crowds. We should never be afraid to steal a good idea.
To catch Emmet's latest column, get 'The Farmers' Journal' every Thursday...
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