Friday 19 December 2014

Dublin could leave capital just twice to land four titles while rivals travel hundreds of miles

Published 24/01/2013 | 05:00

Dublin manager Jim Gavin

DUBLIN footballers have been presented with an unprecedented opportunity to complete a four-title Grand Slam while playing all but two games at home between next Saturday and late September.

It makes them the envy of every other county, most of whom face extensive travel, plus the reduced chances of success on the road.

The squad managed by Jim Gavin (pictured right) could land the O'Byrne Cup, Allianz League, Leinster and All-Ireland titles in a 16-match programme which takes them down the country on only two occasions.

Their scheduled away league games are against Kerry in Killarney on February 10 and Donegal in Ballybofey on April 7, but otherwise it's home comforts all the way, including for a possible six championship games if they reach the All-Ireland final as Leinster winners.

It leaves Dublin facing a mere 640 miles in official match-day travel between now and the end of the season. That contrasts starkly with 2012 Division 1 NFL and Munster champions Cork, who are guaranteed only three home games, none of which will be in the championship, if they retain the provincial title.

They will be at home to Kildare, Donegal and Mayo and away to Dublin, Down, Tyrone and Kerry in the league.

Cork must travel to Limerick for the Munster quarter-final and, if they win, a trip to Ennis to take on Clare in the semi-final will be next up. If, as expected, they reach the final, it's virtually certain that they will meet Kerry, with the championship rota between Munster's 'Big Two' taking them to Killarney this year.

If Cork were to reach the league and All-Ireland finals (the latter as Munster champions) their mileage total would reach 3,495 after being on the road for 12 of their 15 games.

Many of the Cork players also face extensive travel to training, especially those in the west of the county.

All Ireland champions Donegal are guaranteed only three home games between league and championship. They have three home ties in Division 1 and are scheduled to play Tyrone in Ballybofey in the Ulster quarter-final, but that game may be switched to Clones due to capacity issues in MacCumhaill Park.

Donegal are working hard to ensure they retain home advantage, but must wait until at least next month before learning if they have been successful.

Kildare can look forward to only two guaranteed games in Newbridge (the only other possibility is in the All-Ireland qualifiers), having agreed to switch their league clashes with Donegal and Dublin to Croke Park to avail of the larger capacity.

Dublin's home bonanza is down to a combination of lucky breaks, including the draw in the O'Byrne Cup, Kildare's capacity difficulties in Newbridge and the Leinster Council's current practice of fixing all the Blues' championship games for Croke Park.

Dublin play Kildare in the O'Byrne Cup final at Parnell Park on Saturday night (7.0), prior to moving to Croke Park for the launch of their Allianz League Division 1 programme against Cork a week later.

The league rota gave Dublin four home league games this year, but it increased to five when their clash with Kildare, scheduled for Newbridge on March 10, was switched to Croke Park because of the restricted capacity in St Conleth's Park. It means that Dublin will be in action in Croke Park on four successive weekends in March, a period in which Cork will be away to Down, Tyrone and Kerry.

If, as expected, Dublin qualify for the Division 1 semi-final, it will be played at Croke Park. And if Dublin reach the final, it, too, will be at HQ.

It's then on to the Leinster championship where Croke Park has hosted all of Dublin's games since June 2006. And if Dublin win the provincial title for the eighth time in nine seasons, their All-Ireland game(s) will be at Croke Park.

Even if Dublin were beaten in Leinster, it's likely that, as happened in 2010, their qualifier game(s) would be at Croke Park.

They lost the 2010 Leinster semi-final to Meath, but had home advantage for their qualifier games with Tipperary, Armagh and Louth, prior to moving on to the All-Ireland series.

Playing so many games at home is a significant advantage for Dublin as it affords every player in the squad the opportunity to become accustomed to Croke Park, a luxury not available to their rivals. It also cuts down on travelling and accommodation costs for Dublin supporters and the county board.

The betting markets have reacted to Dublin's 'home' blitz by making them favourites to win the O'Byrne Cup (4/7), NFL (5/2), Leinster (4/6) titles while they are joint favourites with Kerry at 7/2 for the All-Ireland title.

Irish Independent

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