Sunday 22 September 2019

Comment: Croke Park is in Dublin but it wasn't built for them - the GAA must not let them have two home Super 8 games

The Dublin team parade in front of Hill 16 before the 2017 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match against Tyrone at Croke Park.
The Dublin team parade in front of Hill 16 before the 2017 GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final match against Tyrone at Croke Park.

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

As it stands, Dublin will enjoy two games in Croke Park in the upcoming Super 8 series of the All-Ireland Football Championship.

The new structure was passed by the 2017 iteration of the GAA Congress, who ruled that every qualifying team should play one home game, one away game and get one opportunity from their three games to play in Croke Park.

While six teams in the series will play in three separate venues over the course of the quarter-final round robin structure, Dublin will travel to the winner of Cork and a yet-to-be-determined round 4 qualifier and enjoy two Croke Park ties, with Donegal and the winner of Roscommon and another round 4 qualifier making the trip to the capital.

Studies in rugby reveal that home advantage is worth seven to twelve points - or close to a certain win when Munster play in Thomond Park - and in football, mathematical equations have been designed that find it worth somewhere between a goal and two, depending on a range of factors including attendance and a team’s style of play.

But in GAA, for some reason, it doesn't seem to be recognised much at all.

If Kildare showed us anything this week, it’s the importance home advantage holds for a team. To fight tooth and nail just to keep a fixture in Newbridge exhibits just how valued that advantage is among inter-county sides.

Since the beginning of last season, Dublin have played in Croke Park on 16 occasions. Of those 16, seven were in the All-Ireland series or in league and provincial finals, games that would that have been played in Croke Park regardless of the teams involved.

Outside of those marquee occasions, the only other football teams to enjoy the advantage of a run-out in Croke Park besides Dublin are the teams that opposed them on those nine other days. Is it fair that Dublin should be allowed to make themselves utterly comfortable in a venue, famous for putting nerves in inexperienced teams?

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Dublin have a stadium, Parnell Park. If Liverpool tried to play their home FA Cup fixtures in Wembley Stadium, citing the extra 35,000 attendance as their motivation, their efforts would be immediately quashed. They wouldn’t be allowed to gain such a familiarity with the final-hosting ground. Tottenham, situated there for the rebuilding of White Hart lane, reached the latter stages of the competition this year and the English FA came under criticism for that very reason.

Granted Croke Park is situated in Dublin, but it was not built for them. If a request like this, in the highly affluent and not to forget professional, sport of soccer would seem ridiculous, how in amateur GAA, where a pride in your parish and sense of home are key values, can Dublin use Croke Park for nearly all of their home games and ignore Parnell Park so completely?

To their credit, the Boys in Blue do rent Croke Park for their home fixtures, in the knowledge that their incredibly faithful supporters will substantially fill it and their investment will be returned. Other counties wouldn’t have the means, or the number of supporters necessary to rent Ireland’s premier stadium, reopening the argument of whether Dublin should be permitted to enjoy such a financial superiority over the rest of the participating teams.

Some middle ground must be struck in the GAA. Nobody should be inhibited from enjoying the spectacle of their county playing, and Dublin supporters must not be punished for being some of the best in the country, following one of the best teams ever to grace Croke Park. Frankly, Parnell Park can’t hold the number of unwavering supporters that follow Dublin, but they should not be allowed to feel so comfortable in a stadium supposed to be reserved for the biggest days in GAA.

There are no stadia within a reasonable drive for Dublin to host the crowds that they draw for their home fixtures, other than Croke Park. Maybe it’s time for the GAA to put a ban on the rental of Croke Park, and force Dublin’s hand to, like Cork did with Páirc Uí Chaoimh, invest some of their copious budget in a new venue capable of housing their astonishing football team and the enormous crowds that they attract.

Until that day comes when a new stadium is built in Dublin, a compromise should be reached, starting with the Super 8s. Jim Gavin's men ought to play one of their two game scheduled for Croke Park in a proper neutral venue.

The incredible scenes of Hill 16 for a Dublin game shouldn't be done away with, but should be reserved for the bigger days and recreated elsewhere when the Dubs play-out their 'home' fixtures.

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