Thursday 24 October 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'A mighty sporting metropolis, dwarfing all others, is the stuff of nightmares'

'Easing the pressure on Dublin house prices would be just one benefit if other parts of Ireland could stimulate more employment.' Stock photo: Getty Images
'Easing the pressure on Dublin house prices would be just one benefit if other parts of Ireland could stimulate more employment.' Stock photo: Getty Images

Gerard O'Regan

So what about the gathering gloomfest sparked by those Dublin footballers doing down the best the Kerry guys could offer? A growing consensus would have us believe the sport is mired in unprecedented crisis. The Dubs are judged to be 'unbeatable'.

The more despairing of the cognoscenti are convinced landing the Sam Maguire is now but a pipe dream for all other counties.

There's speculation that we could be in for endless metropolitan dominance; Dublin footballers will lord it over all comers into the long-distant future.

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The background to such arguments is demographic change.

More than a third of the population lives in the Greater Dublin Area. A journey through the more isolated parts of provincial Ireland shows a shift in population is going only one way. This is reflective of a worldwide phenomenon. The flight from country to town has proved unstoppable.

The GAA more than any other Irish sporting institution has mirrored changes in Irish life for a century and more. The era when it was a primer for forceful cultural nationalism has been well documented.

For many, it was also the embodiment of the character and flavour of a rural society and its mores.

Of course it also had traction in Dublin and other major centres. But somehow or other, its essence seemed inextricably linked with the flavour of small towns, roadside villages, and surrounding countryside.

The relentless movement of people eastwards, however, means this vista no longer tells the real story.

Determined to ride the wind of obvious social change, the powers that be in Croke Park decided some years ago on a 'great leap forward' for football and hurling in Dublin. Huge amounts of money, by way of specially recruited games development officers and a range of other initiatives, were put in place.

The plan to ensure Gaelic games would achieve unprecedented popularity - by way of numbers playing and crowds attending matches - has surpassed all expectations. The GAA has more than assured its future in the capital. But there are those who argue a monster has been created in the process.

It is argued Dublin's five-in-a-row title binge has been aided by all sorts of side benefits. A population of more than 1.4 million - scheduled to rise by a further 500,000 in a decade - is the biggest advantage. The comparison with, say, Leitrim, home to 30,000 people, is stark.

Money ploughed into GAA activities in the capital continues to dwarf what other parts of the country receive. Meanwhile, because they represent a high-spending concentrated area, sponsorship backing for the senior team is at a level other parts can only dream of.

All this means more and more cash is used to develop a conveyor belt of elite players. Raising fitness levels to a new plane in an amateur sport is also much easier if your players live in a close geographical radius.

All the while, successive Irish governments have failed to pro-actively encourage greater population dispersal. Easing the pressure on Dublin house prices would be just one benefit if other parts of Ireland could stimulate more employment.

But such considerations are far from the thoughts of those guiding the destiny of Kerry football, and those who wear the county jersey.

A revamped strength and conditioning culture is likely. It should specifically monitor the progress of players living outside the county bounds.

Word also has it that sports psychology will play a greater role in team preparation. And more advanced technical back-up, such as the most sophisticated video analysis systems available, will be provided at the Kerry Centre of Excellence facility.

The mission statement is to close off any ancillary advantages Dublin may have. But the bottom line remains - winning and losing will essentially be determined on the field of play.

No doubt there is similar plotting going on among the chasing pack in Tyrone, Donegal, Mayo, Galway, Kildare and Cork. But in the south-west, there's a historic sense of destiny.

A halt must be put to the greatest team in GAA history. Regardless of the foibles of our changing demographics, a mighty metropolis dwarfing all others - with no end in sight - is the stuff of nightmares.

Irish Independent

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