GAA Football

Off The Fence: Punters take a pop at Ulster Council as attendance figures fall

Supporters arriving to watch Derry v Donegal during the Ulster Senior Football Championship quarter-final clash at Celtic Park on Sunday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Neil Loughran

IT really feels like Championship has arrived, doesn’t it? Blue skies overhead, sun splitting the bricks, barely a cloud in the sky and the faint smell of burgers and fried onions wafting up the half-empty stands.

Hold on… half empty stands? Ah yes, welcome to the Ulster Championship 2018.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this of course. Hardly any of the matches are being shown live on TV in a bid to bring more people from their homes, the lure of watching generally fairly underwhelming fare simply too much to resist.

And if you don’t mind paying a few bob more for the privilege, all the better.

Needless to say these are the main issues grinding the gears of Off The Fence liners, and where better to start than with perhaps the most underwhelming of all the games so far.

“Last night I made an 80 mile round journey to Enniskillen to watch Armagh and Fermanagh,” said our caller (if I could shake your hand, I would).

“I was shocked when I arrived, as a pensioner, to have to pay £17 to get into see the first round of the Championship.

"I also witnessed a young couple inside the ground very angry about having to pay £48 to see the same.

"And guess what? I've been talking to a lot of my friends - they all sat at home and watched on their laptop. And all I can say to them is well done. I would have been watching it on the laptop too, as I will in the future, if I had known it was £17 for a pensioner to get into that match.

"The crowd wasn't big in Enniskillen last night and they'll get smaller at this rate. I'll not be paying £17 again and I'm a lifelong supporter of the GAA.”

‘COLM from Belfast’ continues along the same lines, and is particularly offended by the decision to start charging U16s £5 into games where once they roamed free.

The floor is yours ‘Colm’.

"I used to be a big GAA supporter but after realising that the Ulster Council has decided now to charge school children into games, I'm absolutely horrified they would make such a decision.

"This comes on the back of losing TV coverage on BBC. Now it is nearly non-existent. In fact, it looks like the BBC has pushed us all back to delayed live coverage and no games at all.

“Cahair outlined in his article that stadium seats are sitting empty and we're charging kids in. We can't get the kids to come when it's for nothing and now we're going to charge them.

“We're going to end up with nobody at our games. Absolutely disgusted. The worst decision the Ulster Council has ever made."

It’s interesting the amount of bad decisions of this type can garner. I well remember the sight of empty seats at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. How hard would it have been to invite kids from the soccer-mad townships nearby rather than asking for money they clearly didn’t have?

Or the quarter full stadiums at the last Olympics in Rio where no attempt was made to involve the city’s citizens. Instead they were treated like unwelcome squatters on their own streets.

These were decisions taken on a global scale that backfired royally and impinged on the reputations of the associations behind them. And, although on a significantly smaller scale, it is no surprise to see a backlash against charging U16s – especially at a time when attendance numbers have declined, and with no live TV coverage to blame.

‘Colm’ mentioned the ‘nearly non-existent’ coverage on the BBC thus far – that appears to be a decision not of the Beeb’s making, but a call made by the GAA in a bid to put bums on seats instead of bums on armchairs.

According to the attendance figures thus far, which have also been impacted by a price hike on tickets, this policy has not proved to be a success.

REGARDING the game in Enniskillen, regular emailer ‘Dermot Spollen’ got in touch to vent his spleen about the Armagh performance.

However, the Orchardmen have taken such a kicking in the time since that I’m going to move on instead to some praise for our columnist Kevin Madden.

The former Antrim great called out referee David Coldrick for missing Drew Wylie’s hand trip on Connor McAliskey match, and our readers were grateful for his candour.

"I just want to comment on Kevin Madden's article,” said the first caller from, you guessed it, Tyrone.

“He seems to be the only one, on television, radio or anything else to have caught onto Drew Wylie's deliberate pull down on Connor McAliskey.

"After all the furore about Sean Cavanagh and Conor McManus a few years ago when the black card was introduced, it seems amazing that no-one mentioned the pull down which was at a vital time and which deprived Tyrone of a vital score, probably a goal."

"WELL done to Kevin Madden for pointing about the Drew Wylie pulling back on Connor McAliskey, which was a black card offence,” added another caller, who also took the opportunity to have a wee side-swipe at Mickey Harte.

"But as good as Rory Beggan was, and Conor McManus, I would go a step further, [and say] if Malachy O'Rourke had of been over the Tyrone team, they would have won the match.

“That's how highly I rate Malachy O'Rourke.”

Armagh have come in for some serious criticism since their Ulster Championship defeat to Fermanagh. 'Dermot Spollen' has provided some more. Picture by Philip Walsh

‘DERMOT’, are you still there? Turns out I have a bit of room at the end here so fill your boots lad. Just do me one favour though – switch the lights off before you leave? Cheers.

“In all my time watching Armagh, I've never, ever, ever seen such an abject performance.

“No pride, no closing down whatsoever. There was nobody near any Fermanagh players coming forward, no tackling, no urgency and a total lack of endeavour.

"And fitness seemed to be an issue, and the execution of basic skills was totally lacking. Couldn't even give a five yard pass, they just looked punch drunk.”

Armagh came in for similar amounts of criticism in the wake of last year’s Ulster exit to rivals Down, and still ended up playing football into August. Westmeath are up next ‘Dermot’, keep the faith

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