Two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. 5,502. That was the attendance at O’Connor Park in Tullamore for the Round Two Qualifier clash between Offaly and Kildare. Two local rivals, a gorgeous day, kids on school holidays, and the crowd was 5,052.
Honestly? They did well to get that much. It’s not either team’s fault.
If you were a Kildare or an Offaly supporter or player, you’d have to be highly insulted by the way the GAA had treated this match. Two o’clock on a Saturday afternoon is no time for a Senior championship match to take place. People at work, Saturday morning clubs and family commitments all cut into people’s ability to attend a match at this time. Saturday afternoon has never been a time for GAA matches at an adult level. Saturday evening suits many people well.
How would it have affected the GAA to have this game on at five that evening, the same as the other two football qualifiers today? Or even at seven, like the three hurling qualifiers? Did someone from Birr or Naas mix up Liam O’Neill’s coffee order recently? Was he still sore over Kildare beating Laois? Roscommon and Cavan played at five to suit RTE. Fine. He who pays the piper calls the tune. Who were Offaly and Kildare satisfying? RTE Radio? Did Midlands 103 and KFM demand this game at this time, to not miss out on their block busting Saturday evening programming?
So, on to this weekend. Again we get three games taking place on Saturday that throw in before three o’clock. This is ridiculous. All three games involve long treks for the away teams. Meaning early starts and a guarantee that anyone who has to work on a Saturday morning but may have been able to sneak away at lunchtime can’t go. Any families with kids at swimming clubs, or summer camps, or indeed at local underage GAA training can’t go. Any players who work on Saturdays who would have had to only take a half day off are now guaranteed to have to take a full day off.
Apart from anything else, the Saturday evening game has become one of the great experiences for a GAA fan. With a semi-attractive fixture, people like to go to the evening games. They can have an excellent atmosphere, and people like the fact that they can go straight out and enjoy their Saturday night afterwards. It also gives players a chance to recover and enjoy a night out before they go back to work on Monday.
If the concern is with families being able to go, why not play the games on Sunday? They’re not being televised regardless, so there’s no contract to be fulfilled. If its security concerns due to the weekend of the Twelfth, why not play the two games on Saturday taking place north of the Border in Clones as a double header on Sunday? Security obviously isn’t a concern as Fermanagh are hosting Roscommon in Brewster Park on Sunday, so again I ask, why the Saturday afternoon games?
For a variety of cultural and historical reasons, the GAA is built around matches on a Sunday afternoon. People have grown to expect it and build schedules around those Sundays. Saturday evenings have proven popular with people as a social occasion, and have built their own atmosphere. I can’t for the life of me understand why the GAA thinks that Saturday afternoons suit anyone.