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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Leinster chiefs bask in 75,000 surge in SFC and SHC crowds

Spectators watch the Leinster SFC Final last Sunday in Croke Park. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Spectators watch the Leinster SFC Final last Sunday in Croke Park. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

It wasn't only the Dubs who were celebrating in Croke Park on Sunday.

The Leinster Council was also basking in the success of a windfall that has seen crowds soar in both codes by a combined 75,000.

Provincial chiefs are reporting an increase of approximately 30,000 in football attendances, with virtually all of that attributable to the 66,734 that turned up for Sunday's SFC final showdown between Dublin and Kildare.

This follows an even greater supporter surge for the Leinster senior hurling championship, with cumulative crowds rising by a reported 45,939 on the corresponding figures for 2016.

Some 115,000 attended this year's SHC and an estimated 166,000 watched its football counterpart. All told, this translates into an overall rise of approximately 35pc on last summer.

Leinster CEO Michael Reynolds welcomed the upward trend, telling The Herald that it would help to stabilise finances and also to bolster any planned developments in the future.

Once you delve deeper, it is quickly apparent why there has been such an upward curve. Most significantly, the resurgence of Wexford hurling has proved a massive hit at the turnstiles.

Few counties can match Wexford's drawing power but, for too long bar the occasional sporadic run, they have been a dormant hurling force.

This year's hotseat arrival of Davy Fitzgerald not only brought the Wexford public back out in force (from as early as the Bord na Móna Walsh Cup), but their subsequent run of success kept the Slaneysiders coming out in ever-growing numbers.

This reached a peak for the Leinster final earlier this month, when 60,032 descended on Croke Park for their defeat to All-Ireland favourites Galway.

Galway's pulling power cannot be ignored either; fans from the west have been travelling earlier and in bigger numbers this season, evidently swayed by their prospects of Liam MacCarthy deliverance after a 29-year famine.

But ultimately Wexford have been the big difference. It's not Kilkenny's fault that they have been winning Leinster SHC titles, almost as a matter of routine during Brian Cody's reign, but this has proven something of a dampener when it comes to attracting neutrals. Equally, Kilkenny's lower population compared to Wexford or Galway is a factor.

On the football front, Kildare's renaissance under Cian O'Neill has encouraged the Lilywhite army to remobilise after a few fallow years.

Just like Wexford, they also have the numbers. Thus, you had close to 67,000 at HQ on Sunday whereas just 38,855 attended last year's football decider between Dublin and Westmeath.

The other consideration is that the public was inclined to give Kildare a fighting underdog's chance, even if the odds were stacked against them.

History

Nor can you ignore the fact that Dublin were going for history, seeking to become the first team to win seven consecutive Leinster SFC titles, ensuring a typically large and raucous turnout from the capital.

There was a time, for much of the noughties, when Croker was close to full house for most Dublin championship games, in Leinster and not just the All-Ireland series.

That has changed with the drop in competitive standards from their provincial rivals; but Sunday reversed that trend and provided the biggest Leinster crowd since the 2012 final against Meath attracted 69,656.

Meanwhile, Kildare will be back in HQ on Saturday week for their Round 4B qualifier against Armagh (7pm), completing a double-header that includes Monaghan versus Down (5pm).

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