Colm O'Rourke: Everyone will gain when Dubs cross great dividing line
Football in Dublin has too many resources – and players – to still be a single entity.
Some years ago a suggestion was circulated that consideration should be given to dividing up Dublin for football purposes and creating another couple of county teams. At the time there was shock and horror in most Dublin circles and the idea was given a short hearing. Maybe it is time to give it another airing, especially as Dublin football in general is in its healthiest state for decades.
The reason for this would appear to be that Dublin are extremely well-organised now. It does not mean that they are going to win the All-Ireland every year but we are moving towards a scenario where Dublin look as if they will dominate Leinster at minor and under 21 level indefinitely.
People always talk about structures and systems but the key to all of this is having the right personnel in charge of teams. If you get that part right and resource the teams properly in terms of gear, back-up with medics, dieticians, gym membership etc, then everything else will fall into place.
The other side of this is making sure that anyone who is unsuitable for a position is jettisoned quickly. It is no different to running any business in that regard. Keeping good managers in place for a while and then allowing them to move up the ladder can be seen to practical effect with Jim Gavin, successful at under 21 moving on to senior, and Dessie Farrell with a smashing group of minors now taking over the under 21s. In the background there is the guiding hand of John Costello, who ensures that teams have what they need. This is paying off in spades and the train has only left the station. There is a lot more to come.
So why then would anyone disrupt progress, especially as the Dubs are brand leaders and the financial locomotive which helps pay coaches, build grounds and paint the brightest possible image of the GAA all over the country?
It comes down to a question of fairness.
In the latest census, the population of Dublin is 1,273,000. The next highest population of a county in Leinster is Kildare with 210,000. Now it is more difficult for the GAA to gain a foothold in parts of Dublin than it is in any other county but even allowing for that, Dublin has a population which is over a million greater than the next biggest county in Leinster. At the moment, Kildare seem to be in the best position to challenge Dublin at both underage and senior yet they do start off at a major disadvantage.
Of course many Dubs will feel that mangling the county into various units, whether based on administrative units or collections of clubs, would destroy the supporter base and lead to apathy and they might not win anything either. Well, try the argument about winning with a county like Longford with a population of 39,000.
A lot of Dublin clubs pick from greater numbers than that. On top of this, many counties in Leinster run their underage teams reasonably well but have very little chance when the Dubs are organised as well as they are now. Are the smaller counties not worth protecting and given a real shot at a provincial title?
Naturally, there are those who feel that a break-up of Dublin is the penalty for doing things right and if they were not successful this would not arise. That is the dog-in-the-manger attitude. There is a bigger picture here. Dublin could easily have four under 14, under 16 and minor teams and the chances are that some of the combinations would meet in the Leinster final regularly. More importantly, it would give a much bigger number of players exposure to a much higher grade of football. At the moment there must be hundreds of very talented young players in Dublin who would walk on to many other county teams but never get a look-in with Dublin.
The opportunity of playing at a high level of football is what keeps a lot of young players interested. If it was with Dublin North or Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown would it make any difference? Hardly. As it is, a lot of talent drifts away in every county but this rate of attrition must surely be greater in Dublin even allowing for a lot of great clubs. The prospect of playing county football is a huge attraction in Croke Park and people would get used to a new name very quickly. Having greater numbers of underage teams would, eventually, lead to more than one side at senior level.
It would not suit the traditionalists and a swaying Hill 16 on a summer's day is a wonderful sight, but there will come a time when two teams from Dublin will meet in a Leinster senior final. Of course radical change like this would be very difficult and would involve setting up county boards
in new areas which may dilute the overall sponsorship take and create problems of identity for Dublin's current supporters.
At the moment, Dublin have a very exciting senior team with the introduction of many great young players. Sitting on the bench or not even getting a jersey is another team that would beat most other counties in Leinster. This is not a healthy situation for anyone but the players and management would certainly not want any change in the status quo until they have won at least one All-Ireland. This only goes to show that the best interests of the GAA in general and Dublin in particular are not the same on this topic.
Sooner or later, the turkeys will have to vote for Christmas. It would be better if Dublin started the process with at least two teams at all underage levels immediately which would give more of their own a chance and would show that fairness still means something.
It will take a brave Dublin chairman or secretary to propose this. The obvious thing to do is to sit back and say that helping to make the GAA a greater force is not their problem. Ultimately, though, it would be short-sighted not to realise that giving a bigger number of young footballers in Dublin a chance to play county football is in everyone's interest and is good for all other counties too.