Leinster GAA’s decision to host their football quarter-finals as a pair of double-headers proves the continuing decline in interest in the provincial football championships.
It has been announced that Dublin-Louth and Meath-Carlow will be played at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise on Saturday, 25 May, with Kildare-Longford and Weatmeath-Laois at Bord na Mona O’Connor Park in Tullamore the following day.
Until 2015 Dublin rarely played a Championship game outside of Croke Park and always drew crowds comfortably in excess of 40,000 – and usually far more.
In 2016 they were sent on the road in the face of criticism that the Dubs played all their big matches at home and 17,000 attended their win over Laois at Nowlan Park.
In 2017 there were 14,000 in O’Moore Park as the Boys in Blue beat Carlow and last year that was down to 12,000 as they hammered Wicklow.
Leinster are expecting around 17,000 for both games at O’Moore Park at the end of the month – 7,000 shy of capacity and a further sign that fans are voting with their feet.
"When making the decision about the double-headers we had a look at where we are in terms of the stadiums we have and their capacity," said Leinster chair Jim Bolger. "At present those capacities aren’t being tested.
"We have used Croke Park for big double-headers in the past, but we didn’t feel that the crowds and the atmosphere would be there at present."
Leinster’s sums compute somewhere in the region of 11,000 Dublin fans for their meeting with Louth and another 6,000 from the three other counties.
Tullamore holds 18,000 and that will be more than enough for the footballers of Kildare, Longford, Westmeath and Laois.
Dublin remain the biggest draw in the GAA, though even they have struggled to sell-out Croke Park away from All-Ireland final day in recent seasons.
Last summer 54,716 watched their semi-final win over Galway – the lowest crowd at a Dublin All-Ireland semi-final in over 20 years and barely more than the Galway-Clare All-Ireland hurling semi-final.
"Coming up to 2011 Dublin were getting massive crowds," conceded Bolger. "Then they won the All-Ireland and those crowds grew.
"I suppose they have become spoilt a little bit and they are waiting for later in the summer. Success takes the edge off it for fans."
The Leinster and Munster football competitions have become virtual wastelands, with Dublin and Kerry all but assured of retaining their titles again this year.
Connacht and Ulster are certainly more interesting, though their crowds are down too. Just over 10,000 were in Omagh last Sunday to see Tyrone beat fierce rivals Derry – a fixture that a few years ago would have sparked huge local interest.
The addition of the Super 8s group stage in the All-Ireland quarter-finals hasn’t helped either, with most Division 1 counties expecting the games to come thick and fast in July.
The two Leinster semi-finals will also be played as a double-header at Croke Park on Sunday, 9 June, with the final on Jones’ Road on Sunday, 23 June.
Leinster’s best hope of getting a big crowd for the final is for the Dubs and Meath to make it that far, reviving memories of their epic rivalry from the nineties.
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