Given all the talk about attendances in the provincial football championships in recent weeks, it will be nice to see Croke Park full this weekend.

Your correspondent has been among the constituency wondering out loud what can be done to lift crowd figures which have been somewhere between paltry and inadequate recently. So the idea that a game of football on Jones’s Road on Saturday evening will draw a full house must be a good thing, right?

Well, when the fact that we are dealing with a game of rugby football rather than the Gaelic variety is baked into the equation, your mileage may vary.

Leinster will host Northampton Saints as they seek to reach the final of the European Rugby Champions Cup for the third straight season.

And, with Aviva Stadium unavailable as it is being prepared for the Europa League final on May 22, the Blue Army will venture north of the Liffey. It will be the first rugby game at Croke Park since the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final, when Leinster beat Munster.

The big takeaway from this quarter is that the lack of remarkability around the occurrence is a good thing. But then, perhaps it’s a sign of growing old that it feels like less than 17 years since rugby and soccer were first played at Croke Park.

From a purely practical point of view, the fact that a GAA pitch has a bigger footprint than what is required for either of the other codes means that soccer or rugby can look a little bit ‘lost’ in the verdant expanse. That, however, is less of a concern than the fact that more than 80,000 people will be able to see the game and contribute to a good atmosphere.

The quest for the fifth star over the Leinster crest must have seemed like a frustrating one at times, all the more so given that there have been three final defeats since they were last kings of Europe in 2018.

That heartache includes the defeats to La Rochelle in the past two seasons but with the French side beaten twice by Leinster this season – away in the group stage and at home in the quarter-final – Leo Cullen’s side will have little to fear.

Leinster are rated as 14-point favourites with the bookmakers. If they do win and then see off Toulouse or Harlequins in the final in London, they will be strong favourites to retain the title in 2025, especially with RG Snyman joining from Munster and New Zealand’s Jordie Barrett joining on a half-season loan deal.

With the RDS set for redevelopment works, Croke Park will feature more heavily on the Leinster agenda for the 2024-25 season. All going well, they will have some happy memories to draw upon.

Too much GAA, not enough time

While Leinster Rugby will fill Croke Park this weekend, Leinster football certainly did not do that last Sunday, despite the fact that four sets of fans were present for two provincial football finals.

Dublin were always going to beat Offaly fairly comfortably, so those groupings were reduced to die-hard levels, while Kildare had a bad Allianz Football League campaign and any Lilywhites travelling were doing so in the hope of divine inspiration. Unfortunately for them, it didn’t materialise as Louth took victory to reach the final for a second straight year.

Dublin’s James McCarthy takes a shot in Sunday’s Leinster SFC semi-final against Offaly, played before a small crowd at Croke Park. /Piaras Ó Mídheach, Sportsfile

The fans of the Wee County were the only ones travelling in expectation of what we might term excited enjoyment, which contributed to an attendance figure of 21,957.

That was down from 30,499 last year and 38,081 in 2022 – it hardly needs to be said that neither of those crowds were worth shouting about, either.

Short of excommunicating Dublin so that somebody else feels like they have a chance of winning, what can be done?

Hosting the semi-finals away from Croke Park is certainly an option as it would reduce the feeling of emptiness that comes from a sparsely filled stadium. UPMC Nowlan Park in Kilkenny could have housed the games, for example, but decentralisation is not something that the Leinster Council have been keen on, for whatever reason.

By contrast, Sunday’s Munster football final between Clare and Kerry will take place at Cusack Park in Ennis. The fact that TUS Gaelic Grounds was unavailable due to a clash with The Great Limerick Run was almost a blessing in disguise, with the Munster Council opting for a coin-toss, which Clare won.

It will be the first time since 1919 that the provincial football final will have taken place in Ennis and the novelty should hopefully draw more Clare fans than might have been willing to travel elsewhere.

That final of 105 years ago finished in a 6-11 to 2-0 win for Kerry – we would expect Clare to raise more white flags this time but, even with the home advantage, it will be a tall order.

Offaly lead in the way in collaboration

Top marks to Offaly Camogie and the Offaly Ladies’ Gaelic Football Association, who launched their joint fixtures booklet for 2024 last week.

As outlined in a statement, it is a collaborative effort between the two bodies, aimed at “streamlining, scheduling and promoting greater participation and support for both sports. By synchronising their schedules, both organisations aim to enhance the experience for players, coaches, and supporters alike, allowing for increased attendance at matches and reducing scheduling conflicts for players involved in both sports.”

That it has taken until now for the first such instance is somewhat disappointing but the hope will be that other counties can follow the example set by Offaly. If it can be done there, it can be done anywhere in the country and at national level.

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