Saturday 22 October 2016

Dublin's control is bad for eastern business

One defeat for the Dubs in last ten Leinster football championships is an unprecedented stat and raises serious questions about why the other counties have fallen so far behind the Blues

Published 16/05/2015 | 01:00

Dublin captain Paddy Christie lifts the Delaney cup in 2005, the start of his side's dominance in Leinster.
Dublin captain Paddy Christie lifts the Delaney cup in 2005, the start of his side's dominance in Leinster.
Dublin's Cian O'Sullivan lifts the Delaney Cup as Meath players leave the field after the 2014 Leinster final.
Dalton McDonagh, Meath, has his shot blocked by Kildare players, left to right, Cathal McNally, Emmet Bolton, Mark Donnellan, Sean Hurley, and Hugh McGrillen in last year's Leinster semi-final.

The stats are as damning as they are worrying for Leinster. When next year's Allianz Football League gets under way, no fewer than eight counties from the province (Kildare, Westmeath, Louth, Wexford, Longford, Offaly, Carlow and Wicklow) will be in Divisions 3 and 4.

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Laois and Meath will be in Division 2, leaving Dublin, Division 1 treble League champions, as Leinster's sole flag-bearer in the top flight. Given that background, it's easy to understand why Dublin are 1/6 favourites to complete a provincial five-in-a-row.

What's more difficult to fathom is why the gap between Dublin and the rest has widened to such an alarming degree. Dublin's Leinster Championship record over the past ten seasons reads: Played 31; Won 29; Drew 1, Lost 1.

The defeat (2010) and draw (2007) were both against Meath but, otherwise, it has been true blue all the way. Indeed, there are solid reasons for believing that Meath's surprise win in the 2010 Leinster semi-final was something of a freak, arising from a five-goal Royal spree, four coming in the second half.

It didn't herald the start of a bright new era for Meath, who were lucky beyond belief against Louth in the final, before being knocked out of the All-Ireland race by Kildare in the quarter-finals. The really worrying aspect for Leinster is the degree to which Dublin's rivals have fallen behind. Check back 10 years to the year Dublin began their latest - and longest - period of ascendancy in championship history and you will find a very different scene.

Westmeath went into the 2005 championship as Leinster champions, having won the title for the first time in 2004. Laois had won the 2003 Leinster title for the first time in 57 years. Meath had drifted into decline, but were still better than they are today, while Offaly were going reasonably well.


Kildare were struggling, but not as badly as they are nowadays, having slipped from Division 1 to 3 in successive seasons.

Nobody could have foreseen in May 2005 that Dublin were about to seize total control, which has left the Leinster Championship as the most predictable of all. Munster may share virtually all its titles between Cork and Kerry, but at least it's a two-horse race.

Ulster is always interesting, having seen four different counties - Armagh, Donegal, Monaghan, Tyrone - win the title in the past decade. So, too, with Connacht. Mayo have dominated in recent years, but Galway, Roscommon and Sligo have also won title inside the last decade.

The decline of Kildare, Meath, Laois and Offaly as serious challengers to Dublin has robbed the Leinster SFC of much of its appeal. Dublin v Meath clashes used to have a special aura, not just within both counties, but also among the wider GAA family. Indeed, when they clashed in the fourth game of the epic Leinster first round saga in 1991, demand for tickets extended all around the country.

That was the case for many years subsequently, but when they met in last year's Leinster final, there were 20,000 unoccupied spots on the stands and terraces.

Granted, it still attracted a fine crowd of 62,700, but will it be as high if they meet this time round? Dublin's easy win last year certainly wouldn't be a selling point.

That's another of the difficulties with Dublin's dominance.

It's not just that they are beating Leinster opposition - they are trimming them. Meath apart, the following has been Dublin's winning margins in recent years.

Laois - 11 points (2014); Wexford - 16 points (2014); Kildare - 16 points (2013); Westmeath - 16 points (2013); Louth - 16 points (2012).


It brings to 91 points Dublin's combined winning margin against six Leinster rivals in three years.

Longford or Offaly will be Dublin's first opponents this year in a clash which will be played in Croke Park as part of a double-header with the Dublin-Galway Leinster hurling tie on May 31.

Inevitably, that raises the question once again as to why all of Dublin's football games continue to be played in Croke Park. They are the only county that enjoys home advantage in every game - provincial and All-Ireland - a bonus that should leave them the envy of everybody else. And yet, the rest of Leinster accepts it.

Playing all Dublin's games in Croke Park makes financial sense, as they attract bigger crowds than would be the case at provincial venues.

Surely, though, there's another important element relating to the unfairness of forcing players from the rest of Leinster to come to Croke Park for every clash with Dublin.

It's nine years since Dublin last played a Championship game outside Croke Park, beating Longford by two points in Pearse Park.

It's highly unlikely Longford would have come as close to Dublin in Croke Park, yet if Jack Sheedy's men beat Offaly in the first round this year, there's no question of a home venue for the quarter-final.

Similarly, if Offaly win, O'Connor Park, Tullamore (capacity 20,000) will lie idle on May 31, while Pat Flanagan takes his squad to Croke Park to play Dublin.

Home advantage is regarded as a major plus in all sports worldwide, so presumably it's worth a lot to Dublin too. That it's handed to them every year in an era when they are totally dominant anyway defies logic.

New Leinster CEO Michael Reynolds told it straight about the state of play in the province in his annual report earlier this year, suggesting that there were up to four standard levels in the province.


And since Dublin are the only county in Division 1, it's easy to deduce that the other grades are mediocre at best.

Reynolds wrote that it was worrying to see a "rather poor level of competition among many of the other counties in games not involving Dublin."

Leinster sought to have a rule change so that they could introduce a round-robin format among six or eight counties, but their proposal was rejected by Congress in February. It has left Leinster with little room for manoeuvre as they attempt to restore their Championship to its former glories.

That should be of concern to GAA centrally. After all, it's bad for overall business if the biggest province remains under the total control of one county, which appears to be moving ever-further ahead of their struggling rivals.

Irish Independent

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