Monday 17 December 2018

Comment: Dubegrudgers doing their best to discredit All Ireland champions while ignoring the bigger picture

Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Mannion, Cormac Costello, Niall Scully, Ciaran Kilkenny, John Small and Mick Fitzsimons with Sam Maguire after their All-Ireland final victory over Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile
Diarmuid Connolly, Paul Mannion, Cormac Costello, Niall Scully, Ciaran Kilkenny, John Small and Mick Fitzsimons with Sam Maguire after their All-Ireland final victory over Mayo. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin manager Jim Gavin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

There's no statute of limitations on a good argument, but it was slightly odd to see Donegal pursuing their claim that Dublin have an unfair advantage in the Super 8 less than a fortnight before the teams meet in Croke Park.

Given that this wasn't mentioned in the immediate aftermath of the provincial finals, nor objected to when the new format was originally being hammered out, it's hard not to feel that Donegal's heads had been turned by a whiff of L'Esprit de Newbridge, the revolutionary new scent that makes the mighty tremble. Having seen Kildare profit from making Croke Park turn tail, Donegal seemed to fancy a piece of that action for themselves.

Croke Park didn't give in on this one and you can't blame them. How would the Super 8 be better served by Dublin and Donegal clashing in Breffni Park or Tullamore rather than at Croke Park? There is something mouth-watering about the prospect of the four provincial champions going head to head next weekend at the finest ground in the land.

The imbalance in the Super 8 results from the anomalous situation Dublin find themselves in vis a vis Croke Park. It is effectively their home ground yet it is also the GAA's number one stadium. Ideally you want as many big championship matches as possible in Croke Park. Thurles comes close, but nothing quite matches headquarters for atmosphere on the very biggest days.

If you want to follow the logic of the argument about Dublin having an unfair advantage by playing in Croke Park then surely they shouldn't be allowed to play All-Ireland semi-finals or finals there. Why not level the playing field in the most important matches of all? Nobody has yet suggested playing football finals containing Dublin in Páirc Uí Chaoimh or Fitzgerald Stadium, but the way things are going someone will surely come up with it soon.

It's hard not to think that the current furore proceeds from Dubegrudgery, which can be defined as the refusal to give Jim Gavin's team their due. The Dubegrudger is convinced that there is something unfair about Dublin's triumphs which he sees as proceeding from demographic, financial and, in this case, fixture imbalances, which mean no-one else has a chance against them.

Yet this idea of an unstoppable Dublin juggernaut doesn't entirely accord with reality. Dublin may have won five of the last seven All-Irelands, but four of their final victories were by a single point. None of those victories were inevitable. Had Mayo possessed a little extra guile they might be going for three in a row this summer.

For all the talk of Dublin's underage strength their minors haven't even made this year's Leinster semis after losing to Wicklow and have won only one All-Ireland since 1985. In the last four years Kerry have produced probably the greatest set of minors ever and should eventually take over at the top.

The argument that Dublin wouldn't be half as smart if you made them play a few big games on the road doesn't stand up to much scrutiny either. Dublin have won five of the last six titles in the National League which last time I checked was still being played on a home and away basis.

What's really annoying about Dubegrudgery is that the better Dublin do the less credit they get. Every new triumph is just seen as further proof that they were always bound to win anyway. There is a substantial portion of the population who would see a four in a row as not one of Gaelic football's great achievements but as a proof that there's something not quite kosher about the championship. The Dubs, in this view, are always manipulating the system and getting away with something they're not really entitled to.

It's a pretty joyless view of the world and Donegal's procedural wrangling over the last week is rooted in the same impulse. We'll see how much good it does them.

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