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Do the Dubs have an unfair advantage by playing most of their games in Croke Park?

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24 April 2011; The Dublin team stand in front of Hill 16 before the start of the game. Allianz Football League Division 1 Final, Dublin v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

24 April 2011; The Dublin team stand in front of Hill 16 before the start of the game. Allianz Football League Division 1 Final, Dublin v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

24 April 2011; The Dublin team stand in front of Hill 16 before the start of the game. Allianz Football League Division 1 Final, Dublin v Cork, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Martin Breheny and Ruaidhri O'Connor outline their view on the issue.

Yes says Martin Breheny

FIRST the figures; then the facts, followed by the fiction and, finally, the conclusion that Dublin's privileged relationship with Croke Park bestows a substantial advantage over their rivals.

The Figures: Let's not rely on the proven evidence from GAA games that teams playing on home ground win more games than the visitors. Instead, broaden it to soccer and the table from the English Premier League which is perfectly calibrated, with 20 clubs playing each other home and away. The returns for 2012/13 are as follows: Home wins: 166; Away wins: 106.

It's 76-54 in favour of home wins among the top six. Check the bottom six and it's 29-20 on the home front. Conclusion? Top or bottom, home comforts carry an advantage.

The Facts: Over the last 10 years Dublin have played 47 of 51 championship games in Croke Park, more than some counties have played there in the 100 years the stadium has been under GAA ownership.

The only non-Croke Park engagements for Dublin in 10 years were in 2003 (v Derry in Clones) in 2004 (v Leitrim in Carrick-on-Shannon and v Longford in Portlaoise) and in 2006 (v Longford in Pearse Park). That's four games outside Croke Park in a decade, with two of them at neutral venues.

So, the Dublin players of that era encountered a real 'away' game only twice, one of them against much lower ranked opponents (Leitrim). It has scarcely been a tough life in the outside world for the Dubs.

Now, let's take this year. If Dublin were to win the All-Ireland title via the provincial route, they will have played 15 games in league and championship, 13 in Croke Park. All very snug.

Also, Dublin always seem to emerge from the same dressing-room. Isn't it odd that happens when Croke Park is supposed to be a neutral venue for championship action? How other counties would enjoy the love that Croke Park offers Dublin.

The Fiction: Every county enjoys taking on Dublin in Croke Park. No, they don't. They all know that when it comes to playing Dublin in the championship, it will be in Croke Park and that complaining would be regarded as a sign of weakness. Does anybody believe that Westmeath wouldn't prefer to play Dublin in Mullingar, rather than Croke Park, next Saturday?

The Conclusion: Dublin's large support base, which brings in proportionately high revenue, is a sound commercial reason to play their games in Croke Park. There can be no argument there from a GAA viewpoint but, in the Court of Fairness, Dublin's privileged position wouldn't stand a chance.

Croke Park is the GAA's national stadium, equally owned by all the counties. Yes, while a county who hasn't played there for years might be allowed a walkabout (as opposed to a training session) on the hallowed turf, Dublin can play seven of nine league games (as happened this year) in Croke Park before moving on to the championship for all their games.

It means that even the Dublin kit bags know the ground better than some of the opposition. A big advantage? Definitely? An unfair advantage? Unquestionably.

No says Ruaidhri O'Connor

WE'RE told that the GAA needs a strong Dublin, but when the capital shows any signs of flexing its muscles the cries of 'stop' echo from beyond the Pale.

'Split them up!' came the call when the U-21s hammered Carlow earlier in the year, only for Longford to knock them out at the next stage and, if that was the reaction to a first round Leinster Championship victory in underage football, then it was little wonder that the seniors winning the league in swashbuckling style would provoke further angst from Dublin's rivals.

Those who cry foul claim Dublin have all sorts of unfair advantages. They range from population to wealth and marketability and also include the fact that the country's biggest stadium just happens to be based in the capital and the team with the biggest support play most of their games there.

Is it an advantage? Maybe, but it is an economic and geographical reality and to hold it up as some sort of injustice is laughable. It's a wonder that, given all of these cards up the Dubs' sleeves, Sam Maguire hasn't been resident in the capital for the last 20 years instead of having two short stays.

A field is a field and in the past 10 seasons Dublin's would-be fortress has been breached in championship football by Kerry three times, Mayo and Tyrone twice and Cork, Meath, Westmeath, Laois and Armagh have all recorded a victory each.

Dublin's record away from Croke Park isn't half bad when they're allowed to go on the road, even if those forays away from the capital have sadly become all too infrequent.

Apart from the replay defeat to Kerry in Thurles in 2000, you have to go way back to remember a Leinster Championship defeat outside the capital, even when games away from Croker were a regular occurrence in the 1980s and 1990s.

It's often overlooked that Dublin's hurlers also get to spend more time in Croker than most of their rivals, but it doesn't seem to help when they take on Kilkenny and Tipperary at the venue.

So, does anyone truly believe that taking Dublin outside of Croke Park would seriously hamper their summer ambitions? Would a trip to Mullingar to face Westmeath perturb Jim Gavin's brains trust any more than the Division 2 finalists coming to the capital next Saturday evening?

The odds are that they would reach the quarter-final stage whatever the route and, once there, all bets are off.

Dublin's winning record will be thrown at them as an example of the unfairness of it all, but the reality is that they have consistently been the best team in Leinster over the past decade thanks to hard work and good coaching.

Asked about the issue last week, Paul Flynn reckoned their opponents get a bigger lift out of visiting the stadium, something Dublin's players take for granted, so perhaps the issue works both ways.

Sport is all about turning all of those small advantages into one performance and, if Dublin do go on and justify their favourites tag, it will hardly be because they played their games in the capital. It will be because they were the best team.

Irish Independent