WOULD Manchester United have conceded that last-gasp equaliser to Everton had Old Trafford been full?
And would England have produced such a limp display in the opening Six Nations game, against Scotland, had Twickenham not been empty?
The absence of crowds at major games has had an impact, unquestionably, and has increased the chances of teams winning on the road.
You could just imagine thousands of United fans in the 76,000-capacity ground, screaming for the final whistle, as Everton launched one final attack to rescue a point.
United’s defenders switched off at a critical moment, allowing Calvert-Lewin poke home a shock equaliser with the final touch. But would that have been the case had Old Trafford been packed to the rafters?
Likewise, England’s rugby players were in dire need of inspiration as the Scots unexpectedly dominated for long periods in their 11-6 success. Twickenham holds 82,000 and their absence from the famous London stadium must have felt very strange for the home side.
Will the absence of crowds affect the second round of fixtures next weekend, with the French coming to play Ireland at an empty Aviva Stadium, in a must-win fixture for Andy Farrell’s charges?
The country’s top footballers and hurlers sampled life-without-crowds towards the tail end of 2020, with both All-Ireland finals played at an empty Croke Park.
That didn’t prevent the favourites, Dublin and Limerick, from showing why they’re the best in football and hurling, respectively.
Cork football captain, Ian Maguire, spoke recently about the importance of crowds. “I think crowd noise is actually part of sport and you don’t realise how important it is until it’s gone,” he said.
The All-Star midfield nominee played in games with very limited numbers in attendance, with his club, St Finbarr’s, and at an empty Páirc Uí Chaoimh for the championship games against Kerry and Tipperary.
“You’d be surprised at the energy you get from a crowd,” Maguire said, with the rider that without them it can help, too.
“There was no breakdown in communication between management and players during games, which can happen with big crowds,” Maguire said. “But, not having crowds is a big loss, because they are the people you represent.
“I’m from Togher. I represent my club. I represent my family. And when they’re not there, it is a bit of a loss.
“Still, it’s perfectly understandable, because of Covid. Sport needs crowds, whether it’s Gaelic football or others.”
The GAA’s annual congress will take place at the end of the month, but held remotely, with a condensed programme, because of Covid-19. Hot topics, like reforming the football championship, are likely to be deferred.
Maguire’s take is the more games against the likes of Dublin and Kerry, for example, the better.
“There’s nothing better than having the opportunity to play a big team,” Maguire said. “That’s what I love about the championship and I regard it as a blessing to play the big teams.
“Looking at the Super 8s, for example, I thought that was a very good idea. In 2019, we played Dublin, Tyrone, and Roscommon and that was something new for me. I would be in favour of that.”
Allied to changing the way the championship is moulded is a continuation of the split season, which was an overwhelming success in 2020 when clubs played first before county action took over.
Maguire, though, remains to be convinced.
“I don’t think an actual split is the way, but trying to find a way to get the maximum from inter-county and club.
“I take Paul Kerrigan as an example in 2018, because he had a full championship campaign with Cork and the same with Nemo. I think that has to be avoided in the future because it placed unbelievable pressure on Paul, who’d say it was like a whirlwind for him.
“He was steps away from winning an All-Ireland with his club and was then back out playing championship with Cork a couple of months later,” Maguire said.