Why didn’t the GAA refix the Club final times for the Grand Slam decider?

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So what are you doing this afternoon then? Breaking your lenten promise of not eating sweets may be one thing. Or, for an older breed of person, going on the piss may be the other. But even if you are stuffing your face or wetting your whistle, St Patrick’s day is a long one, so there’s plenty of time to plonk yourself down in front of the television, where you will be free to watch some high quality sport.

But what is it going to be? You could turn on TG4 and treat yourself to the mouthwatering spectacle of Cuala taking on Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland club final from Croke Park, where the titans of Con O’Callaghan and Shane Dowling face off against each other. There’s a similar level of intrigue to see if Tomas O’Se can defy the aging process once more, to lead his adopted club Nemo Rangers to victory, in their football showdown with Corofin. Or alternatively, you could be one of the many thousands of people who is going to switch over to TV3 to watch Ireland’s grand slam decider, potentially only the third in our history, against our old imperial nemesis of England in Twickenham. It’s a big decision, but what will you choose?

Unfortunately, for those GAA lovers amongst us, the answer may be the rugby game for a lot of people. The football final kicks off at 14:00 and the hurling one begins at 15:45. Unfortunately, the not inconsiderable matter of the grand slam decider takes place at 14:45, smack bang between the middle of games, as Jonny Sexton and co try to rewrite history. It’s an unfortunate coincidence and it’s one the GAA would wish to have avoided. And they could have done if they had just…I don’t know, say…changed the timing of the fixtures.

Now you may say that the GAA shouldn’t have to change their fixtures for any other sporting organization. We’re Irish god damn it! We’re proud gaels, and we’re not interested in all this “foreign game” rubbish. We should never have allowed them in Croke Park, and we can bring back the Ban while we’re at it! A Nation once again, a Nation once again….Here’s the only problem though: most people don’t think like that.

The fact of the matter is that, while there are a large amount of people in this country who are, to quote the term, “true gaels”, there’s an even larger amount who are general sports fans, and Irish fans at that. So while many people may be interested in watching the club finals from Croke Park, many others would be more keen on watching the country’s biggest rugby match in 9 years and a possibly era defining victory. They may like to see the club finals too, but when there’s a clash of games, there’s only going to be one winner. That’s not being an unpatriotic “West Brit” about it, it’s just the fact of the matter. We held a twitter poll on this issue last night and 74% voted in favour of the timing of the fixture being changed. And as we are a predominantly GAA site, I believe the general populace will be even more rugby dominated.

I vividly recall watching the 2002 World Cup second round game, between Ireland and Spain, from the comfort of the living room with my family. It was a complete cliff hanger, and after extra time and penalties, Ireland were agonizingly edged out. It was the biggest football game the country had played in years, and everyone was completely gripped by it.

The only problem was, the game was on at the same time as an Ulster championship clash between Donegal and Derry in Clones, and the RTE GAA coverage was deferred because of it. So after one of the most pulsating games of soccer you could imagine, the camera panned back to a near deserted St Tiernach’s Park, where Michael Lyster was trying to summon up some enthusiasm for a typical defensive Northern grind fest. So obviously, there is previous in all of this, and usually the vast majority of sports fans will opt for the bigger, more international, game.

I also remember being in Croke Park on St Patrick’s Day in 2007 when Ballyhale Shamrocks won the All-Ireland club hurling championship for the first time in 17 years against Loughrea. Fortunately the ticket fairy had managed to secure us premium level seats, so during a break in one of the games, I went inside to check the television to see whether Ireland had managed to secure the Six nations title.

Unfortunately France tipped them to it with a last minute try against Scotland. I wasn’t the only one to witness that. In fact, I could barely see the screen in the premium level, as more people seemed more interested in whether Ireland were going to win their first championship in 22 years, than whether Crossmaglen or Dr Crokes emerged victorious in the club football decider. So whether the GAA likes to admit it or not, these other, decisive games from “foreign sports”, do have an impact on attendance and interest levels.

Now the GAA may argue that this is the biggest day in the club GAA calendar and these timings are decided months in advance, but there was an easy solution to all of this: play the fixture at night. A lot of the intermediate and junior club finals have taken place like so in the past. You could have had the first game on at 17:00 after the rugby had finished, while the second would have taken place at 19:00. People would have been able to see the result of the Twickenham match from Quinn’s or McGrath’s, before ambling down Jones’ Road to see how the club games played out.

Now there are some that would argue that it wasn’t practical to play the games at later times, but then the majority of Dublin’s league games, for hurling and football, are played in such fashion. And many of those are played against teams (eg Donegal) who would have had to travel large distances to get there, and wouldn’t be arriving home that night until obscenely late. So it’s not as if the GAA couldn’t have changed the timings of the games. They were just too stubborn to do so.

Now maybe none of this really matters. The club finals never have massive attendances anyway as the majority of people who attend them, are usually from the participating clubs or, at the very least, the participating counties. There’s not a massive pick up of neutral GAA fans for the games, and I’m sure, to the likes of Corofin and Nemo Rangers, and whoever else is involved, this will not matter. All they want to do is be in Croke Park, to see their team winning on the biggest stage possible.

But it will be interesting to see what the viewing figures for the games on the respective stations are when they come out. Because I’ve a hunch that the viewership for the club finals may be way down from recent years, and it’ll be no fault of the players. And if the GAA are wondering why they didn’t get enough eyeballs to see these games well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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