And then there was one.

If you surveyed 100 rugby fans and asked them which province would go furthest in the Investec Champions Cup this year, tribal loyalties might have meant that Leinster would not have achieved unanimity, but they would still have been in the high 90s.

However that Leo Cullen’s side should be the only ones standing at the quarter-final stage is a disappointment. This is of course underlined at a time when Ireland are doing so well, but Leinster’s dominance of the national team means that a rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats.

Against Leicester Tigers at Aviva Stadium last Saturday evening, things went pretty much to plan apart from the brief period after half-time when the visitors got back to within a score. Leinster responded well to nip any comeback thoughts in the bud and the 36-22 final scoreline was illustrative of them doing enough without being absolutely perfect.

Struggled domestically

Realistically, nobody wants to produce the flawless display in the last 16, especially with the quarter-final coming so quickly. And what a clash it is with La Rochelle, who have beaten Leinster in the last two finals, coming to Dublin on Saturday evening.

The sides have already met once this season, with Leinster winning 16-9 in France in the group stage. That was cathartic but it may not count for a huge amount at the weekend.

Ronan O’Gara’s side have struggled domestically at times in the current campaign but the knowledge of winning in Europe is a valuable asset to have and this game has the potential to enthral.

La Rochelle used Fota Island in Cork as their training base this week, so Munster still clings on to some residue of European action following the province’s loss to Northampton Saints.

A game first-half display couldn’t be maintained in the second period, with the English side pushing on to win 24-14 and it summed up a season of ups and downs as Munster have tried to build on the 2022-23 URC triumph.

Had Munster beaten Northampton at home in the group stage, it would have yielded a more manageable knockout tie but that result was a symptom of the inconsistency. In any case, even if they had made the quarter-finals, further progress would have been unlikely.

At least there was some joy in the Challenge Cup as Ulster and Connacht won away to higher-ranked opposition, both scoring 40 points in wins over Montpellier and Pau respectively.

The seeding system means that both must travel this weekend for their quarter-finals too, with Ulster going to France to play Clermont Auvergne on Saturday, while Connacht are pitted against Italy’s Benetton Rugby on Sunday.

Tough tests for both, but winnable games. While the Challenge Cup is not where either team wants to be, winning breeds momentum and it’s worth remembering that when Leinster were ‘relegated’ into the Challenge Cup in 2013, they treated it with the respect it deserved and won it, allowing them to kick on again.

Would reducing ticket prices help GAA fill the seats

Last weekend saw the beginning of the provincial senior football championships, with games in all four provinces.

By this stage, it’s fashionable to decry the decreasing importance of these competitions and lament the poor crowds – in short, negative talk always attracts more attention than positive.

Cork's Chris Óg Jones, with empty seats behind him, scores a goal in Sunday's Munster SFC quarter-final win over Limerick \ Tom Beary/Sportsfile

Certainly, the change to a round-robin format for the All-Ireland senior football championship, with qualification partially based on league positioning, has squeezed the provinces, but they still offer interest. One only has to look at the enthusiasm of Waterford’s Caoimhín Walsh, speaking to Eoin Sheahan of Newstalk, to get a sense of what the Déise’s first Munster championship victory since 2010 meant to those involved.

The paucity of the crowds generated some discussion – much of it from the members of the media who never have to worry about paying for their tickets. While the split-season has more good than bad for the bulk of the club GAA players around the country, it is worth noting that more games in a shorter timeframe means that supporters might have to plan for more than one big match from a single pay-packet.

In that regard, it’s easy to understand why the earlier games might be forgone, given that the outcomes are often predictable, such as Cork’s win over Limerick or Meath’s against Longford.

There is an argument that provincial games could be discounted. A stand ticket for Kilkenny v Antrim in the Leinster SHC – a game that, with the best will in the world, is unlikely to be a close affair – is €25. Now juvenile tickets are a fiver, which is to be applauded, but if you made adult tickets €20 or even €15, would you attract more people?

The bare gate receipts might be the same but more people means more programme sales, more food and drink sold, a better atmosphere and greater interest. Presumably greater financial minds than mine have run the numbers and landed where they have, but supporters are ultimately consumers and have to be enticed rather than being milked because their loyalty is taken for granted.


Presumably you have read that the motions for the annual Camogie Congress regarding the wearing of shorts – were defeated. Democracy is democracy and the result will stand for at least three years as the matter cannot become before congress again until 2027, but one does wonder if there was a lack of communication between the wishes of players and those casting the votes.

It was probably not ideal that there were two separate motions – one to simply add shorts to the list of acceptable items and one to replace skorts with shorts – but it does seem perplexing that there was opposition to adding another option when so many players have been vocal about their preference for shorts.

It is worth noting that congress produced the first male president in camogie history, with Brian Molloy succeeding Hilda Breslin, while a series of motions inspired by the Meaningful Playing Time Report were passed. They aimed to enhance playing opportunities for players by permitting eight substitutes at underage intercounty games and adult club games in both intercounty and club games. Additionally, there will be an unlimited number of substitutes permitted at underage club level.

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