It was a historic day for Ladies Gaelic Football at Croke Park on Sunday as the attendance rose to an all-time high of 56,114.
You knew from arrival into the ground that it was going to be a record with all three sides of the Cusack, Davin and Hogan stands fully open and filling up.
There had been fears that the counter attraction of the men’s All Ireland Final replay in the same venue the previous night would take away from the stand-alone importance of the Women’s final but that was not to be the case and if it hadn’t been for a miserable day of wind and rain, the number could have gone even higher.
There had been a significant push from within the sport and clubs were pressed into making sure that teams and individuals were given every encouragement to attend.
The fact of having Dublin in a final and the relative ease of getting there from Glasnevin or Glasthule is a boost and there were large groups coming from across the capital. But they were not alone. Galway had strong attendance and there were significant numbers from Tipperary and Meath, Louth and Fermanagh, all of whom were in action, all of whom had brought their fans.
In fact the Dublin the previous night may have added to the occasion with fans looking to keep up the mood of celebration.
There are a number of ways of looking at the number.
The comparison to the attendance at the Men’s Final shows that the gap between the two is shrinking at a rapid rate. Since Croke Park opened the final phase of its redevelopment in 2005, every Men’s final has attracted a capacity crowd of over 82,000. The attendance at the Ladies Final that year between Cork and Galway was 23,358.
That number dipped then and in 2010 when Dublin won their first All Ireland title there was an official attendance of 21,750.
The lowest point of the modern era was Cork against Kerry in 2012 which attracted 16,998 but since then the climb has been both relentless and immensely encouraging.
Cork’s three in row victories over Dublin between 2014 and 2016 saw numbers climb from 27,374 through 31,083 to 34,445.
The in 2016 there was a surge with 46,286 coming to see Dublin beat Mayo.
In 2017 the record was smashed again as 50,141 watched Dublin beat Cork and now the number has hit an all-time high which is 160 percent ahead of where it was at the start of this decade.
A similar level of growth as has been the case over the past three years would see capacity reached by 2023. That would be something to indicate that parity of esteem between the genders in sport had been reached.
Those who may still point to the gap and say that the public still ‘prefers’ Men’s sport might reflect on the fact that the attendance on a wet Sunday afternoon was 5,000 higher than for this year’s Leinster Hurling Championship Final at the same venue, 12,000 higher than for the Munster Hurling Championship Final in Limerick.
It is not there yet but it is getting there. Tomorrow morning we will be able to look at a comparison on the viewing figures for the two weekend Championship deciders. The Men’s number will be higher, perhaps by a factor of 2:1 or maybe a little more.
In mainstream media, particularly the traditional print sector, the gap is higher still but that is still a gap which is determined by editorial choices rather than the public. It will change in response to public demand. Perhaps that’s as it should be though it does feel a let off to allow newspapers in many ways perpetuate the gap by giving less credit and coverage to one over the other.
Last night and this morning though it is a time to celebrate. The Dublin team that wake up today, after they eventually go to bed, has put in every bit the same amount of effort as the men.
Both of the teams and Dublin GAA recognise that. Their sponsors AIG recognise it too with the banner still draping the front of their building showing Jonny Cooper and Niamh Collins side by side. RTÉ recognises that having devoted The Sunday Game last night to a full review of the game, despite TG4 having the rights to broadcast it live, and sending Marty Morrissey to the winner’s hotel in the same fashion as they did on Saturday.
These are major positive signs for equality within sport. It was a good day.
Image Credits: Tommy Dickson, Inpho.ie