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Rules Tests on the rack

GAA director general Páraic Duffy has admitted that the low attendance figures for Friday night's first International Rules Test against Australia could endanger the future of the hybrid game.

Just 22,921 fans turned out to watch Ireland's attempt to regain the Cormac McAnallen trophy at Etihad Stadium.

Duffy said that he would be meeting with the AFL later in the week to discuss the reasons for dwindling interest in the contest Down Under. Ireland won the first Test by an unprecedented 44 points.

"Clearly, there would be concern with the attendance figures - they were disappointing," Duffy said.



Weather

"I accept that it was a dreadful evening weather-wise; it wasn't an evening that would encourage you to leave the house. Having said that, it was still a disappointing attendance. It doesn't seem to generate the same levels of interest that it did here or that it does in Ireland.

"When you have only two countries involved in a competition and, in one, attendance figures suggest a certain apathy, it does certainly raise questions long term.

"If the next game only draws 10,000 people then the series is in serious trouble, there is no doubt about that."

Duffy said that while the GAA were happy with attendance figures in Ireland, spectator numbers in Australia would have to improve if the series was to remain economically viable.

There is also a concern that a fall in its credibility would ultimately affect spectator interest in Ireland.

"If you go back over a number of years, attendances here have been in decline but they have held up very well in Ireland," added Duffy. "Even last year, during tough economic times, they held up well but here there has been a pattern of decline.



Opportunity

"One of the points to make about the series from our point of view is that it gives the players an opportunity to play for their country.

"But it must remain cost neutral. We keep our home gate receipts and the profits we make from that go to fund the tour to Australia.

"So from that point of view the attendance is not a problem for us this year, but if the numbers fall here I think inevitably they will start to fall in Ireland. That would cause an issue because if our attendances were to fall to a similar level we simply couldn't afford it. We wouldn't want to pay for this to any great degree out of normal GAA funding."

As regards the ongoing debate on whether the game has become "sanitised" due to the emphasis on both sides to play the game in the right spirit, Duffy acknowledged that there was a tendency for spectators to enjoy the melees which have occurred in previous series.

"(Rodney) Eade (Australian coach) has said that they will be much more physical. He said it would be within the rules and I think that is the important part of what he said. But there is an element of truth in the fact that people like bust-ups. I don't share that view," he said.

"I think a really good game would also put bums on seats. Ireland were terrific last Friday night. And if the Australians, who were hugely impressive last year, played at the same level, and you have two teams playing really well, then it would put bums on seats.

"It doesn't necessarily take violence to do it. Just because we have had a very one-sided series over the last few years, it doesn't mean we need a good row. I don't accept that argument.

"If two teams played really well it could be a very entertaining game and hopefully we will get that on Friday. We need a game with that right balance."

As for the club versus country saga which saw several players join the Irish squad late due to club commitments and some miss out altogether, Duffy said a break in club activity would not be a possibility.

Several players have called for an end to the club v country dilemma by enforcing a break during international action, while Irish manager Anthony Tohill has also spoken of his disappointment at the staggered preparation enforced on his side.

Duffy added: "Look, in the ideal world, all your championships are over, but we have to accept that not every single player will be available for selection."