Friday 30 September 2016

Coman Goggins: Take Dubs out of Croke Park? Spare us the tired annual debate

Coman Goggins

Published 21/05/2015 | 16:54

The Leinster Council is not likely to look a gift horse in the mouth, regardless of the annual clamour to end Dublin's squatter rights on Jones' Road, says former Dublin defender Coman Goggins
The Leinster Council is not likely to look a gift horse in the mouth, regardless of the annual clamour to end Dublin's squatter rights on Jones' Road, says former Dublin defender Coman Goggins

Two weeks ago, minus the fanfare, the GAA football championship kicked off when Mayo ran out resounding 22-point winners over New York in Gaelic Park.

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For the rest of us, who don't get to skip over the water to the Big Apple, the confirmation that championship football is upon us comes when the Sunday Game theme tune blasts from our television screens and the face of Michael Lyster greets us from a damp and dreary Ballybofey.

This piece of orchestral magic is unquestionably synonymous with summer-time and Gaelic games, and there other sights and sounds remain consistent year-on-year, such as the recurring argument around the provincial format, refereeing interpretations, and that old chestnut of the Dublin footballers always playing in Croke Park.

Before a ball was kicked in the Leinster Championship a number of managers, pundits and players stoked up the question of Dublin's residency in headquarters and how it represents an unfair advantage. It's a line that is beyond boring at this stage.

In fact one of the most frequent and loudest complainants was left with egg on his face last weekend when his team was dumped out of the Leinster SFC despite enjoying home advantage!

The basis of this argument has a number of facets, with obviously the fact that all except Dublin have varying distances to cover to get to Croke Park, which means that travel arrangements or overnight accommodation need to be factored into the pre-match routine, where the Dubs can rest easy in familiar surrounds.

There is also the belief that teams have a far better chance of taking Dublin's scalp if they get them in their own backyard, in the hope that a partisan local crowd can become their 16th man as their enthusiasm rolls off the terraces and stands.

As a member of the last Dublin team to play outside Croke Park in Leinster SFC action when we faced Longford in a Leinster quarter-final in 2006, in some ways I can understand this sentiment given we left Pearse Park that day with a narrow two-point victory and our manager Paul Caffrey's stern words ringing in our ears on the bus journey home.

However, on closer inspection, the stats don't appear to reflect a major weakness when Dublin travel outside their Croker fortress. In fact you have to trawl back to1973 and to Louth's 1-8 to 0-9 win in Navan to find the last time a Leinster county turned the Dubs over outside Croke Park.

Did this prove that Dublin were fallible on the road? Did others capitalise on this in the following years? The answer is a resounding, 'No'. In fact the reverse was the case.

Under the guidance of the late and legendary Kevin Heffernan, the Dubs went on an unbeaten run in Leinster until 1980, collecting six provincial titles, and winning three All-Ireland titles in what was a glorious period for Heffos's army.

There is also the financial argument around the notion that by putting the Dubs on the road it will provide a mini economic boost to the local area.

As travelling supporters the Dubs are not renowned for propping open the boot and sipping on a flask of tea and gorging on ham sandwiches and chicken legs, so there is some validity in the view that GDP figures would rise around a provincial ground should they be asked to pay a visit.

However, the truth of the matter is that it is neither the association's or Dublin GAA's role is to stimulate a local economy, rather it is the role of the Leinster Council to generate as much income as possible in order to support the development of the game in their province.

This view is obviously shared across county boards, as it is their delegates who voted to keep Dublin in Croke Park for their championship matches, with John Horan, the chairman of the Leinster Council, stating that it made no financial sense to restrict supporters' access to games while it would also serious restrict juvenile and family tickets.

The format of the provincial championship, which offers a bye into the quarter-finals for all four semi-finalists from the previous year, doesn't help matters either, as based on their dominance in the province and the Leinster Council's commitment to play their semi-finals and final in Croke Park, it restricts the opportunity to effectively one game per year.

Although clearly there is limited scope, based on my experiences, both the players and supporters would relish a road trip, and as Jim Gavin put it last week, "Dublin will play wherever they are asked".

In an environment where the provincial structure continues to lose its appeal however, the Leinster Council is not likely to look a gift horse in the mouth, regardless of the annual clamour to end Dublin's squatter rights on Jones' Road.

In fact one of the most frequent and loudest complainants was left with egg on his face last weekend when his team was dumped out of the Leinster SFC despite enjoying home advantage!

Herald

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