Wednesday 13 December 2017

Dublin must create swell of support for ‘Blue Wave’

Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

TEN years ago next month, a high-powered GAA committee ended an 18-month review of the Association by offering the separation of Dublin as one of its recommendations.

It stretched to no more than 500 words in a 264-page report, but it became the main focus of the following day's newspaper reports. That was followed by even bigger headlines as senior Dublin County Board officials, flames blazing from their nostrils, yelled: 'Over Our Dead Bodies.'

The GAA Strategic Review Committee (SRC) proposed that due to "the current pressures on the Dublin County Board," the county should be split into a north/south divide with the river Liffey as the separation point. From 2005 on, Dublin were supposed to have two teams in all football competitions.

The SRC made a fundamental mistake in proposing such a radical plan without first trying to bring Dublin along with them. It might not have worked, but it was at least worth a try.

Without proper dialogue, the idea was always going to be a non-runner so instead of it being discussed calmly and rationally -- in Dublin and beyond -- it was clattered into oblivion.

The doomed Dublin proposal became a touchstone for those who wanted to oppose other ideas put forward by the SRC, which, in fairness, offered lots of thought-provoking proposals. However, many of them got smothered under allegations that if the report could offer something as radical as splitting Dublin without having any hope of winning local support, its other proposals were spurious too. Consequently, several worthwhile SRC recommendations were voted down.

Those involved in producing the strategic plan 'Unleashing the Blue Wave', published this week, haven't made the same mistake, but they would need to be very careful about how they go about explaining their position when selling it to the rest of the GAA world.

There's a solid logic underpinning much of what's in the Dublin report based, as it is, on the uniqueness of the county's position in terms of trying to promote Gaelic games in an area with a population of 1.27 million people.

Basically, Dublin has the same structures as Leitrim (population 32,000) and Longford (39,000), yet Blanchardstown alone is home to over 92,000 people, while Swords has 67,000 and the north city 308,000. On the southside, Rathfarnham-Terenure has a population of 125,000, Tallaght 85,000 and Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown 206,000.

The scale of the challenge facing Dublin in a capital city where there are so many rival sporting attractions is enormous, one which they cannot be expected to deal with on their own, not least when it comes to money.

Besides, Dublin is a huge financial driver for the GAA, so there's a clear logic in ensuring that they get a proportionate share of the income. No county would dispute that, but finding the balance between what's appropriate for Dublin and the rest of the country won't be easy.

Nor is there likely to be much support for Dublin's call to be recognised as a province while retaining the playing status of a single county. Dublin also wants a permanent place on the GAA's Management Committee.

If they are to be recognised as a province then other counties are, at the very least, entitled to ask why the possibility of separating into two units (north and south) wasn't dealt with in any detail in the report. Instead it was dismissed in a few lines, signed off with the emphatic conclusion that "our flagship teams -- our senior footballers and hurlers -- must never be divided."

That means that one team (in each code) will continue to be drawn from a population of 1.27 million, which seriously reduces the openings for players at inter-county level. Apart from that, there's something incongruous about Dublin and Leitrim competing for the same prizes, despite a population difference of 1,238,000.

Of course it may be risky to separate Dublin, but has it ever been properly evaluated?

The GAA's SRC didn't make a very compelling argument as to why it should happen (indeed, it seemed something of an afterthought), while Dublin's SRC haven't explained why the thought of separation is so repulsive.

"Must never be divided" is dogma, not reasoned argument.

If Dublin is to be granted provincial status, would extra benefits accrue? Will they expect as many All-Ireland final tickets as Munster, Leinster, Connacht and Ulster? As for a permanent place on the GAA's Management Committee, it's fraught with risk. Would the representative regard the role as advocating exclusively on Dublin's behalf?

And if an exception were made for Dublin, how long before Cork and Galway would seek special representation on the Munster and Connacht Councils respectively on the basis of their size?

Writing in the Dublin report, GAA Director-General, Paraic Duffy seemed to be suggesting that while Dublin's large population made it hugely important to the well-being of the Association, special administrative privileges could not apply.

"Croke Park does not accord a favoured status to any unit, but would be denying demographic facts not to recognise that Dublin is a region of vital importance to the GAA," he wrote.

In fairness to the Dublin SRC, they articulate that viewpoint extremely well. And while much of the external focus will be on how they see their financial and administrative interaction with Leinster and the rest of the country, the internal challenges, solutions and goals are well channelled.

Ultimately though, Dublin believe they are entitled to more of the financial cake than they are currently receiving. They have a solid argument, but with every county struggling financially, Dublin will need to be at their persuasive best to bring others with them.

For, while one-fifth of the island's population may live in Dublin, four-fifths don't and they, too, have their difficulties in promoting Gaelic Games in an increasingly competitive environment.

There's no doubt that the Dublin report is well-grounded across many facets, but they really do need to be wary not to create the impression that the rest of the country owes them because of the revenue-generating capacity of a hinterland which houses 1.27 million people.

Seeking provincial status and a permanent residency on the GAA's Management Committee won't go down well around the country. Drop those and the Dublin plan will get the support it deserves.

Irish Independent

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