FAI Cup Final crowd will attract new fans to LOI and shows growth in Irish football

Sunday’s FAI Cup Final feels bigger than the two teams involved - there is a sense of occasion that has not been seen before with other Lansdowne showpieces.

Of course, to St Patrick’s Athletic and Bohemians, nothing else will matter when the two teams cross the white line, amidst a foggy cloud of smoke created from the pyrotechnics bellowing from the North and South Stands. 

But there is a feeling that this domestic decider has the potential to capture a wider audience.

At the time of writing, more than 45,000 tickets have been sold for Sunday’s showdown between the Dublin rivals - a repeat of the 2021 final where the Saints won in front of 37,126 - with sales expected to eclipse the record of 41,238 in 1945. 

Plenty has changed for both sides since 2021.

Jon Daly and Declan Devine will suit up and lead their sides out on Sunday afternoon as they look to end their maiden campaigns as managers with silverware.

Only two players who started the 2021 decider remain in the Saints squad (Chris Forrester, Jamie Lennon) while James Talbot, Ali Coote and Keith Buckley are the only three players who remain from the Gypsies squad such is the turnover of players that Devine has overseen.

Influential skipper Buckley will be absent after picking up a long term knee injury.

There are many storylines to keep an eye on over the course of the ninety minutes - or the more likely cagey 0-0/1-1 spectacle before going to penalties. 

Pat's are chasing their third cup win in nine years while Bohs are searching for their major trophy since 2009 and their first FAI Cup triumph since 2008.

There is the added caveat that the Phibsborough outfit must win to qualify for European football having narrowly missed out in the league.

But perhaps the biggest storyline is how this will present itself to the neutrals.

There is no denying that regardless of what happens on the pitch, the Aviva Stadium will be a sea of colour and this will be a monumental occasion.

Over 40,000 tickets have been sold organically without any cheap and cheerful ‘let’s just fill seats’ ticket bundles. These are full price tickets where it costs an arm and a leg to bring the family.

But a family day out is what it will be.

The FAI will have managed to quadruple the attendance from the gloomy days of the RDS and cup final attendances have been building steadily which have also seen the sense of occasion grow. 

Helped by the presence of a Dublin team of course and it is unlikely that such crowds would be possible if the final was contested between two teams outside of Dublin.

Shamrock Rovers against Dundalk in 2019 had just over 33,000 fans in attendance while the 2021 final had just over 37,000 spectators present.

A 32,000 strong showing last term continued the consistent crowds that the FAI Cup Final has drawn in recent years.

Dreams of a sell-out might even come to pass at the weekend - and a full Aviva Stadium on television will make it a brilliant spectacle.

An event that perhaps people who were on the fence or only had a casual interest or no interest whatsoever in Irish domestic football might sit down and watch.

There is the opportunity for people who would love to be into Irish domestic football but just can’t grasp it to watch this cup final, feel the atmosphere, see what it means to people and how good it looks and stick with the game for next season.

The buy in from neutrals of course has been huge which is why a new attendance record could be set at the weekend.

Children at the game or watching on television might leave Lansdowne Road on Sunday evening gripped by what they have seen, dreaming of becoming the next Chris Forrester, Sam Curtis, Jonathan Afolabi, James Clarke or James McManus.

League of Ireland fans can be accused of being the problem child who gets too offended by people’s lack of awareness for the domestic game after another season of lobbying for more exposure and television coverage.

But the FAI Cup Final is Irish football’s biggest advertising opportunity to grow the game in this country.

And it is a credit to the league that we are on course for a record crowd because there are going to be neutrals there that want to watch a good game of football.

The League of Ireland will have new fans come Monday morning.

Although, the next step is the argument that our facilities are no longer fit to cater for the demand but that’s for another day.