RTÉ GAA pundit Joe Brolly can be a contrary soul — he once infamously called Cork footballers a “dumb” side, an offence for which he surely remains a pariah in western parts of our county.
Even so, it was hard to stifle a chuckle when he responded to his ousting from the RTÉ panel for last year’s All-Ireland football final replay by joking that he would now be on the hunt for a ticket after being ‘let down’ for his.
The jostling for a ticket for the hurling and football deciders is an annual pantomime in Ireland, as it quickly becomes clear that six million into 82,300 — the number of available seats at Croke Park — just won’t go.
Stories about locating a ticket are legion. Think Charlie And The Chocolate Factory for demented adults, and you get the picture.
I recall the last time Cork reached an All-Ireland final a decade ago, and the Friday before, as the Late Late Show wound to an end and I headed to bed, my home phone rang.
“Ah, I hear you have a ticket for Sunday,” slurred a voice, to the background of pub chatter. A voice I had never heard before or since. A chancer.
I’ve no idea why he called me, I had no ticket! Probably a total random number. Nice try, buddy.
Even at €90 a pop, tickets for the finals are like gold dust.
There is an enduring argument that the allocations should just go to the counties of the finalists every year — but that would be grossly unfair on those smaller counties that don’t grace a final from one generation to the next.
Besides, unlike the All-Ireland semis, the finals are regarded by the GAA as something of a national treasure, so it allocates tickets to a raft of different people and groups: counties, provinces, Central Council, sponsors, GAA staff, schools, the Irish Sports Council — even Croke Park residents.
Some of these end up on internet sites, where bidding can easily reach four figures.
In an ordinary year, it’s a mad scramble. Then we come to 2020...
This year’s GAA season will be like no other because of Covid-19 — the All-Ireland finals are pencilled in for mid-December and it looks like the best fans can hope for is that there will be 5,000 spectators allowed into each final.
That was the best-case scenario number being banded around this week, although the Government denied it had even been discussed when they unveiled their plan for living with Covid on Tuesday.
If 5,000 is the maximum allowed, that would present a problem...
If 82,300 tickets isn’t enough to meet demand... how on earth do you decide how to allocate 5,000?
Of course, this is a problem for the GAA to solve — but since the All-Ireland finals are regarded as a national treasure, it’s an issue on which everyone, from the government and politicians, to celebs, media commentators and, er, social media influencers, will have an opinion.
Here’s my tuppenceworth... I’ll present a few options, then come up with my own.
For the reason already given, it would be unfair to allocate tickets to just the All-Ireland finalists every year.
But, for one year only, how about giving each of the counties in the football and hurling finals 2,500 tickets each, and at least ensuring that a few actual fans of the teams competing have a day to remember.
It would be impossible to recreate the Croker roar with so few people, but at least the fans that are there would add something to the occasion.
It’s also a point worth making that there should be no double- headers or curtain-raisers at the finals. Play the minor finals on a different day and allow 5,000 fans each to watch them too.
A NATIONAL RAFFLE
It’s only fair to recognise that a season without fans will have a huge impact on GAA finances.
With 5,000 tickets for each of the finals, their best hope of raising a huge sum of money to offset that would be to hold a nationwide raffle. A fiver or tenner per ticket.
Then hold a straight draw and, voila, you have 10,000 lucky so-and-so’s winning a day out to tell the grandchildren about.
Crucially, if the GAA go down this route, they must not send out the tickets to the winners, as they may end up as online auctions. Hold the ticket at the turnstile and ask the winners to present their passport on entry.
A NATIONAL AUCTION
Surely the most unpopular option, but a good way for the GAA to maximise profits. They simply auction each ticket to the highest bidder.
However, this year, of all years, we don’t want to turn this into a circus, where the fellas with the big bucks win out.
The sight of billionaires and multi-millionaires parking their backsides in the Croke Park seats would be the biggest PR own goal since a group of politicians decided to hold a soiree for their golf society in a large function area.
And speaking of politicians, can we make it a hard, fast rule that not a single one — whether they be Taoiseach, Minister, TD, senator, MEP, or even recently-resigned EU Trade Commissioner, is allowed within an ass’s roar of Croke Park this year? I appreciate some of them have worked incredibly hard in this crazy year, but these sparsely-attended finals should be for ‘the people’ only.
Which brings me neatly to my idea on how we ought to allocate those All-Ireland final tickets.
GIVE THE TICKETS TO THE PEOPLE WHO DESERVE THEM THE MOST IN 2020
Hand over all 10,000 All-Ireland finals tickets to the frontline medical staff — doctors, nurses and hospital admin people — who have played such a big part in containing the Covid-19 crisis.
And I mean hand them over. For free. Let the Government take the hit and pay the GAA for them .
There will still be far more takers than tickets: The HSE employs 67,000 people and agency workers bring that figure over the 100,000 mark. So, let the frontline staff apply and then hold a raffle to determine the winners.
And, on the day of the match, stage a minute’s silence for the people we have lost to Covid-19, then a nationwide round of applause for the health workers.
What a marvellous gesture that would be. What a sight to behold.
In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that this is the only option open to the GAA.
Who’s with me on this?