independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Money matters mean Dubs will not take show on road

Sending champs 'down country' hits Leinster Council in pocket

Michael Delaney, CEO of the Leinster Council and Martin Skelly, right, Chairman of the Leinster Council after the recent draw - what an occasion it would be if Wicklow or Laois got to play Dublin at home

It can often be hard to get excited about the draws for the provincial championships, mainly because a lot of what happens is predictable, and the competitions don't begin until next May.

The draw for the Munster football championship is a farce given the return to the seeded format.

An open draw would at least give us the possibility of not having a Kerry-Cork final every year – as happened for decades until Clare's Noel Walsh somehow managed to get through a motion to have an open draw about 20 years ago.

As a result, there were several non-Kerry-Cork finals and Limerick were very unfortunate not to beat Kerry in the final as recently as 2010.

I know a lot of wonderful sporting GAA people in Kerry and Cork but I could never understand how they condoned the seeded draw.

It does not seem very sporting to me but it will be in place again for the coming season.

Money should no longer be the main reason on which to base decisions about inter-county football. The Leinster football draw is significant for a few reasons.

There seems to be a school of thought in the province that Dublin will continue to win the Leinster senior title for as long as they wish because of their apparent dominance in recent years, leaving the provincial championship as merely a means of gaining a higher place in the qualifiers for the other teams.

How easy it is to forget that Longford beat Dublin in this year's U-21 football championship and Kildare won the U-21 title.

No doubt, the 2014 draw inspired some immediate comments that Dublin should be made to play some Leinster games down the country instead of having every game in Croke Park, as has been the case in recent years.

Well, as Leinster chief executive Michael Delaney pointed out, Dublin do not seem to have a problem about playing outside the Pale.

Once again the decision will be decided by money and in that regard Dublin need never open their mouth in protest because they, and every other GAA person knows, that money talks. How often will the Leinster Council forfeit at least €250,000 by fixing a Dublin match in Portlaoise, Tullamore, Wexford Park or Nowlan Park?

The last time Dublin played a senior football championship match outside Croke Park was seven years ago in Pearse Park in Longford when a full house of about 17,000 saw the visitors get the scare of their life before emerging with a fortunate victory.

So, take with a grain of salt the belief that Dublin would be happy as Larry to play anywhere the Leinster Council fixes them. Croke Park is their natural home and who wants to leave home?

The first venue test could come if Laois beat Wicklow in the first round in Aughrim and set up a date with the Dubs – but that is a big 'if' for Laois. Maybe the Leinster Council would fix such a game for Portlaoise, but I doubt it.

The usual ploy in recent years has been to put Dublin into Croker with a lesser fixture on the grounds of finance.

If that happens this year, then the undercard would most likely be the winners of Longford-Offaly against Wexford. But overall, Dublin will not be too worried this year about who they play or where because they seem well ahead of the posse.

Indeed, motivation will be one of the most important components for Dublin players as they attempt to retain their title – which they failed to do in 2012.

Having to play in a hostile environment down the country with a packed house might be just the fillip that some Dublin players would need.

I remember some titanic battles – and I use those words deliberately – when Dublin played senior championship games in places like Navan, Newbridge, Tullamore, Portlaoise, Wexford Park, Carlow and Mullingar as well as Longford.

I cannot recall if Dublin ventured into fortress Aughrim in the past but what an occasion that would be if Wicklow beat Laois and then got to play the All-Ireland champions at home. Dream on folks because the dreaded health and safety crowd have taken a lot of the fun away from such venues.

The Leinster draw makes it almost certain that Dublin will play Kildare or Meath in the final.

Ulster, as ever, is the most interesting provincial draw, but that is because of the intensity of the local county rivalries rather than the overall quality in the province at the present time.

The fact that Tyrone, with the remnants of a great team, were clearly the best championship team from Ulster this year indicates that the remainder in the province are some way short of the leading counties at national level.

In 2014 the biggest question will be about Donegal's prospects after their disastrous fall from grace.

Fixtures are always clearly designated in advance in Ulster, with strong home and away rules applying, which makes a lot of sense.

Huge importance is attached to home venues – as we learned when Donegal fought so hard to make sure they stayed in Ballybofey last year.

In Connacht, Mayo, like Dublin in Leinster, seem well ahead of the pack and, only for London's performances this year, it would have been a really drab competition.

The 2014 draw is a lot more interesting and even a game between neighbours Roscommon and Leitrim is always a big draw.

The old chestnut of small and large provinces is always a bugbear for many, but still the recent draws do offer many attractive sub-plots in each province – apart, that is, from Munster.

Pity we all have to wait over seven months for some action, though.

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