FARAWAY HILLS ARE GREEN Some Mayo supporters look on from a hillside at James Stephen’s Park, Ballina to watch a National League match against Dublin in 2009. Pic: Sportsfile
Mayo’s home attendances have climbed in the last ten years
IN the region of 15,000 fans are expected to descend on MacHale Park in Castlebar on Saturday night for the visit of the five-in-a-row All-Ireland champions.
There’s no denying that Dublin’s arrival brings out a bigger crowd than any other county but Mayo’s home support has swelled hugely across the last decade, regardless of opposition.
It is a rare home league game now when less than 10,000 punters file through the turnstiles in Castlebar.
In fact in only two of Mayo’s last 13 home games has there been less than a five figure attendance. Both games, as it happens, were against Cavan (insert the Cavan joke of your choice here).
It’s a far cry from when Dublin visited Ballina in 2009. It was the last home game Mayo have played away from MacHale Park.
Mike Finnerty’s match report in these pages pitched the crowd at an approximate 2,500. In those days an official attendance was rare and, when given, was often rounded to the nearest 500. Mayo hosted Westmeath in Charlestown in 2009 too, with a crowd of just 1,760 attending.
There’s no doubt that there have been two main factors in the swelling of the numbers — the redevelopment of MacHale Park and the success of the Mayo senior team in the last decade.
The final round of the league in 2009 was the first played in MacHale Park since the redevelopment started. The shell of the new stand provided an eerie backdrop as in the region of 5,000 fans watched Mayo draw with All-Ireland champions Tyrone, all fans located either behind the goals or on the McHale Road side.
The numbers started to climb in 2010. Over 10,000 were there for the visit of the Dubs while in the region of 6,000 fans were there for the games against Galway and Monaghan.
The arrival of James Horan as manager in 2011 did not immediately trigger any increase in attendances. His first game, a home league clash with Down, saw 5,500 at MacHale Park while similar numbers attended the other home league games.
Attendances were hard to find for games in 2012 but the rearranged Dublin league game saw a huge leap with an attendance of 10,153.
But with no Dubs coming to Castlebar in 2013, the attendances were back down to an average across four league games of 6,961.
It grew steadily from there. In 2014 the average was 8,995 and up to 10,357 in 2015.
Virtually year on year it has climbed since.
In 2016 it was 10,624, up to 11,285 in 2017 and up to 12,322 in 2018.
It was, with no visit of the Dubs, down to 10,938 in 2019, the first year it has dipped, but there’s no doubt the arrival of Dessie Farrell’s history-making squad this weekend should provide a considerable surge in numbers – manna from heaven for a Mayo County Board always fighting to break even.
Going back to the start of the millennium, the numbers were also well down on where they are today. While not every report had an attendance and those that did were often approximated, it still gives a flavour of how much has changed.
A crowd of 2,000 was in Charlestown for Mayo’s clash with Derry on December 2000 – recall the league back then started in autumn and resumed after Christmas.
In November 2000, Mayo visited Fermanagh where, in a crowd of 3,000, Mike Finnerty reported in these pages that Mayo fans were ‘conspicuous by their absence’. That has not been an issue in recent years with Mayo often outnumbering home supporters on away days.
The very fact that Mayo could play home games in Ballina, Charestown, Crossmolina and Ballinrobe during the first decade of the 21st century tells its own story. None of those venues could even dream of hosting a game now with attendances almost constantly north of 10,000.
Even an FBD game could be beyond them with an incredible 7,065 passing through the turnstiles for Mayo’s clash with Galway earlier this month.
Long may it continue.
Top 5 home league attendances 2010-2019
1: 15,313 v Dublin, 2018
2: 14,102 v Donegal, 2017
3: 13,500 v Dublin, 2015
4: 13,000 v Kerry, 2016 *
5: 12,387 v Monaghan, 2019
* Approximate figure
2019 – 10,938
2018 – 12,322
2017 – 11,285
2016 – 10,624
2015 – 10,357
2014 – 8,995
2013 – 6,961