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Don't kill soul of the GAA

Splitting Dublin would be a toxic pollution of the way we define ourselves


Game over: Stephen Cluxton of Dublin and Martin Reilly of Cavan fist bump after the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park

Game over: Stephen Cluxton of Dublin and Martin Reilly of Cavan fist bump after the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park

Game over: Stephen Cluxton of Dublin and Martin Reilly of Cavan fist bump after the All-Ireland SFC semi-final at Croke Park

The GAA is largely about identity. Without that sense of place, it's just another sporting organisation.

Identity is the cultural driver behind the whole thing. We rejoice when we beat certain counties because of what we think that says about us and because of how we feel about them.

We take an unnatural pride in the achievements of the people from the places we're from, wearing the colours we've worn and supported.

Few experiences in life prompt the same extremes of emotion as backing your county. Few in my life can compare with playing for Dublin.

And when we gather to celebrate or commiserate or analyse, it's not just as followers of a football or hurling team. It's about our county, our club. Our people.

Rightly or wrongly we see ourselves differently when we win and we feel that pang of inadequacy or frustration or heartache when we don't.

We harbour ridiculous preconceptions about players or supporters or people from different counties because it suits our own narrative and the stories we like to tell ourselves.

'Such and such a crowd are windy' or 'those lads are full of themselves' or whatever.

The day that dynamic is removed from the GAA, either by splitting a county or amalgamating others, will be the day the GAA effectively sacrifices its soul.

Shortly after Pat Gilroy took over as our manager in 2009, he brought us out to the Poolbeg Lighthouse off Sandymount Strand.

It was a clear day and in one direction, you could see out as far as Dalkey in the deep Southside of the city. To the North, you could make out the coast and town of Sutton.

It might sound a bit schmaltzy but Pat wanted to hammer home that sense of who we, the Dublin football team, were, the place and the people we were representing every time we played and trained. And it resonated with a lot of fellas.

It's a privilege to play for Dublin. You happily give your life to it while you can.

I represented Dublin, the county. Not the Navan Road, where my club is. Or Castleknock, where I live.

But all of Dublin. Northside. Southside. Inner city. The lot.

And I can guarantee you that wearing that jersey meant as much to me as any player who ever wore their county colours.

Nobody has the right to take that privilege away from this generation or any future generation of Dublin footballers or hurlers.

So what's the issue here? If the major single problem is the Dublin footballers winning, then stop playing all their matches in Croke Park. End the obsession with the provincial system in the championships and make it an open draw or a group/knockout competition with no geographic stipulations.

Make a competition where they're as likely to play in Omagh or Killarney or Castlebar in the first round as they are in Croke Park.

And fund the counties that find it hard to make ends meet.

I saw Kevin McStay's proposal that Croke Park should meet the costs of travel and food expenses for county teams and I couldn't agree more.No county board should be forced to trim on those sort of costs or dip into their development budgets so their players are properly fed and reimbursed.

But what practical effect would splitting Dublin do?

Who would it benefit? Let's be honest about this. The answer is Kerry and Mayo. It wouldn't do anything for the weaker counties. Nothing.

Will Division 2, 3 and 4 teams suddenly rise up just because Dublin don't exist in their competitions?

And what value would an All-Ireland without Dublin be to Mayo or Kerry anyway? Not a whole pile, I'd imagine.

So what's the point? I accept that people might find it hard to see at the moment, but Dublin will be beaten.

It might not happen next week. But it will happen. I'm absolutely convinced of that.

I've no doubt they will continue to contest All-Irelands for the next decade because of the quality core of players, the management and the system, but it's highly unlikely they'll go the next three or four years unbeaten.

And I understand there's a sense of injustice at the moment, that people feel Dublin are being given an unfair advantage.

But the funding question is endlessly complex and at the moment, it's being portrayed as simplistic.

If you took all the money Dublin receive from Croke Park and divided among the rest of the country, all you'd achieve is to stop the growth in playing numbers in the biggest centre of population and leave many county boards with money they wouldn't know where to properly invest.

That won't happen. It's such an incredibly narrow way of looking at the GAA. Central intervention is required. No question.

If that means appointing full time CEOs in five or six counties with the structural potential to make the next step, fine - let's start with that.

Establish systems, a pathway for elite players, an overall coaching plan for the county, so they can create a culture that sustains. Because that's what's needed - not splitting Dublin.

That won't ever happen in my lifetime. It would amount to a disaster for the GAA, the beginning of the end of the inter-county game and a toxic pollution of way we define ourselves as GAA people.

Those who propose it should be careful what they wish for.