THE FAIRWEATHER Irish football fan has been treated to quite a menu in recent weeks, with plenty of cross-channel sides in town.
A Manchester United select, a Chelsea XI, over a dozen lower league sides and of course the biggest of all, Manchester City, have proved to be decent money earners for Airtricity League clubs.
Granted the people of Cork packed out Turner’s Cross for the visit of United’s youth team but the biggest without a shadow of a doubt came on Sunday night when 20,000 turned out in Thomond Park to see the Premier League champions pick up their pre-season preparations.
It was a great night for not only the club, and it’s very strong Cork playing connection, but the entire city of Limerick.
Limerick chairman Pat O’Sullivan made the valid proclamation after the game that in August the city is at its quietest and it was a huge boost for tourism, with hotels full and bars thronged with punters.
“When you think about what this game has done for this town, it’s brilliant. The most important thing is that we’ve shown we can deliver on this stage.
“I’d love to make a tournament out of this because now we have hotels full and if it was tournament they’d be full on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the stadium full on two nights,” he said.
Of course, several references to the FAI blocking previous attempts at bringing a big name to Limerick and their scuppered plans of turning the event into a tournament similar to the Dublin Super Cup followed but O’Sullivan and the man behind organising the friendly, Damien O’Brien of Iconic Worldwide Events, made some fine points.
“There were 20,000 plus people here and the money that was made from it will be put right back into Limerick,” O’Brien said.
“Next year, we would like to make this a tournament and bring four teams if possible but that’s up to the FAI to sanction it.”
But being realistic, while 20,000 is a fantastic number to have at a game, no more than 5% of the crowd will turnout for their next home game.
Then again, there is really no point in questioning the reasons behind the lack of numbers returning against less glamorous opposition.
One person after the game on Sunday night asked how many will ome back for Limerick’s next league game at Jackman Park. But would you take a family to a derelict football ground that has one unkempt, leaky stand and open terracing?
Even die hard Cork City supporters have given the place a skip because it’s such a kip.
When Limerick make the much-needed move to Markets Field, there’ll no doubt be a bump in attendances, especially if they close out promotion to the top flight.
Turner’s Cross is worlds ahead of Jackman Park, but the problem of sub-standard facilities is a scourge which smothers the league.
It doesn’t cost clubs too much to clean their toilets before a game and give turnstiles a lick of paint at the beginning of each season.
The league needs to be attracting fans to welcoming surroundings. We’re not expecting world class facilities, gourmet food at half-time and padded seating but a lot of time the cost-effective and small changes will have the biggest effect.
And even though City are by a longshot one of the best in the country, there is always room for improvement.
Turner’s Cross of course isn’t owned by the club and their hands are tied to such a large extent but improving the screechy PA system, having the toilets a little cleaner and improving catering a tad probably won’t break the bank.
The main sponsors are one of the biggest food producers in the country, so having them set up a stall selling sausage, bacon and pudding sandwiches would work well not only for Clonakilty but also the supporters.
They can already do it for the corporate guests at half-time in games, so surely it wouldn’t take too much to extend it a little further?
As a side note to the earlier mentions of friendlies, another decent size crowd would have been expected at the Cross this Sunday with Blackburn Rovers in town but sadly, the timing of the game couldn’t have been any worse with the hurlers’ eagerly-awaited semi-final against Galway on the same afternoon.
That will leave a major dent in the attendance, even though the time has been moved forward an hour so as not to clash completely with the game in Croker.
Many City fans are just diehard Cork sports fans who will support the city’s teams no matter what the game and if given the choice between a meaningless (apart from making a few quid) run-out 24 hours before a crucial league game and the county’s hurlers seeking a place in their first final since 2006, there will be only one winner.