Giving it all three barrels

One of the reasons why Waterford continue to hold a fascination with the public over and above their achievements is a sense of cannon-loose-on-deck danger in their utterances, particularly from the exotic townies. Witness how Eoin Kelly cut through a lot of the pussy-footing typified by the GPA types who want to get money but don’t want to be seen to ask for the money. Say what you are thinking and have the courage to live with the consequences or don’t say anything at all – do you hear me, Rand Paul?

So no surprise to see John Mullane riffing on everything he thinks is wrong with the GAA in the build-up to the big match against Clare on Monday week. To summarise what he said (a summary that will probably be longer than what he said):

  1. The scheduling of the game on the bank holiday is driven purely by money, players would have liked to have had the Monday off to recover.
  2. €20 for a football match, then another €30 only a fortnight later to see the same counties in hurling? Robbery.
  3. Having the Under-21 championship running simultaneously with the Senior championship damages both competitions.

A lot said in very few words. Croke Park, clearly stung by his criticism, fired directly back yesterday. Is he right? His weakest argument is regarding the Under-21 championship. They “need to start looking at everything”, eh? Give Joe Duffy a buzz, he’ll only be too delighted to give airtime to such a cutting insight. Everyone knows that the co-existence of the Senior, Under-21 and Minor championships throughout the summer is messy, but the moment someone proposes messing with things they get accused of trying to destroy a good thing. Moving the Under-21 championship to earlier in the season like they have in football isn’t an option, unless you think putting a hurling competition on a gluepot pitch is going to enhance its status. And any proposal to merge the two underage competitions is always shot down by the constituency that have affection for that competition. The Minor championship revels in its long history and the opportunity to play in Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday while the Under-21 championship, in an example of the law of perverse outcomes, has been enhanced by the back door in the other two events, adults competing in a classic winner-takes-all contest. There’s no solution except to muddle on through and invest in what Emmet Moloney referred to in his AFR column: the endless bouncebackability of youth.

He’s on firmer ground when lamenting the loss of the bank holiday Monday. At the very least you can see where he’s coming from. Inter-county players have to box off their summers from a long way out, especially now that the back door means that they can realistically dream of events beyond the province. You might look at the calendar and think well, at least we’ll have the June bank holiday off, might take the family to Tramore for the day if the weather is fine. The GAA have effectively served notice to all players that that day is off-limits too. For all of that, you can see the GAA’s point as well. For an organisation that routinely gets pounded for not marketing the game correctly, it makes sense to put a big game on a day when there’s going to be little else going on and plenty of itchy remote control thumbs in the afternoon. Ironically it’s a match I’ll miss due to work commitments, so it’s being the opposite of self-serving for me to commend the GAA on this move.

His last point, the price of tickets, is his strongest one. My brother lives ten minutes walk from O’Moore Park, and was pondering whether to attend the recent clash between Wicklow and Carlow. But for €20, especially when there’s a more attractive fixture from Ulster on the telly? Forget it. For the GAA to use the defence that they haven’t put up prices in four years is lame in the current enviroment. Waterford United cut prices this year, surely the GAA should be following suit. And, like the back door or not, these matches are not as highly charged as they once were. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Wicklow and Carlow fans to pause and wonder they should bother with a potentially phoney clash, especially with the prospect of a bigger, fresher game to come in the qualifiers.

Have the GAA done no research into the effect prices have on attendance? What is price elasticity for match tickets? The GAA seems to be operating on the assumption that trimming a fiver or a tenner off the price will not lead to the extra sales to keep revenue stable, but one would hope this is based on concrete evidence rather than a feeling in their collective waters – given the ad hoc way in which so many things are handled by the GAA, one would suspect it’s the latter. And besides, do they not feel any sense of embarrassment at the wide open spaces in grounds? Should getting bums on seats not be prioritised over making money? If the GAA are right that putting a match on a bank holiday leads to increased exposure then surely it would be also true that getting people through the turnstiles to enjoy the spectacle is more important than counting the beans?

A lot of questions. Trust a Waterford player to be the one to stir things up.