Nickey Brennan believes the Inter-Provincial competitions may have run their course, with it becoming increasingly difficult to squeeze the matches into the GAA’s heavily-crowded calendar.
The semi-finals in both competitions take place this Saturday, with Fermoy instead of Fraher Field hosting the Munster versus Ulster meetings in both codes (the hurling tie first at 1.30) and Roscommon the venue for the Connacht-Leinster clashes.
The two finals will then be played as a double header under lights in Portlaoise a week later. Both sets of fixtures will have to compete for what little attention they’ll attract with the high-profile International Rules tests taking place Down Under 24 hours earlier.
Nothing the GAA has tried in recent years, including staging the finals overseas, has managed to capture the public’s imagination. Clare businessman Martin Donnelly says his best efforts to sponsor and promote the matches haven’t been helped by headquarters, whose scheduling would make you think they’re trying to kill the competitions off.
When John Mullane captained Munster (managed by Michael Ryan) to last year’s title it was the first-ever floodlit hurling game at Croke Park. But still only 10,000 turned up to watch what was a very entertaining and high-scoring contest against Connacht.
The obvious lack of public appetite for the matches doesn’t bode well for a competition where medals were once worn as a badge of honour.
However, I wonder if adding a charitable dimension to what used be known as the Railway Cups (so called because Iarnród Éireann supplied the silverware) might work? If the concept was seen to generate huge gate receipts for one or more charities, and marketed accordingly, emphasising the worthiness of the cause and the stars on show, the public might be inclined to attend in much greater numbers.
Last May’s inaugural Tom Cheasty Memorial Challenge in aid of the South East Cancer Foundation’s new Solas Centre was a huge success, for instance. (Hard to believe how hopeful Waterford were after beating Kilkenny in Walsh Park that evening.)
A Croke Park sell-out might be fanciful, at least initially, but I’d imagine a benefit game in aid of, say, the National Children’s Hospital could attract tens of thousands of people, and generate upwards of a million euros for Crumlin, as long as it was sold to the public, and priced and scheduled properly. In this era of increasing GPA demands, it would show the players in a good and generous light and enable the association as a whole to give something back, other than their vast, everyday contribution to communities. Seems like a win-win scenario to me. The GAA’s head of games, Tallow man Pat Daly, might see it as worth trying at least.