Martin Breheny: Dublin's country 'imports' should face Leinster ban
I stood close to the Rhode squad as they watched Diarmuid Connolly accept the Leinster club football trophy after St Vincent's beat the Offaly champions in O'Moore Park last Sunday.
Later I talked to Niall McNamee about the game and he explained how Rhode had prepared to the very best of their ability but things just didn't work out on the day.
He was right. Yes, Rhode were undermined by mistakes they avoided in previous games but that's what happens against better teams, a category into which St Vincent's fit neatly. This was their fourth Leinster title in 10 seasons, a period in which they also won two All-Ireland titles.
As McNamee left the pitch and Connolly joined the happy St Vincent's contingent, I couldn't help wondering which of them is the better footballer?
Connolly gets all the medals and accolades as part of possibly the best squad Dublin have ever had and his club account is bulging too as it coincides with a time when St Vincent's are going especially well. McNamee is not as lucky.
He would have been a big star during Offaly's great days in the 1960s-'70s-'80s-'90s but times are very different for the county now.
Rhode continue to be successful but just can't crack the Leinster code. Significantly, their last four final defeats were by Dublin clubs (St Vincent's and Kilmacud Crokes twice each).
All of which brings us to the question of big Dublin clubs and their stranglehold over the provincial championship. That's already long established on the county scene but it's now happening at club level too.
The last five Leinster titles were won by Dublin clubs, as did 10 of the last 14. Only five of the previous 14 went to Dublin. Clearly then, the gap between them and the rest has widened considerably. However, unlike the county scene, there are wider considerations involved, since several big Dublin clubs, St, Vincent's included, are heavily reinforced by country players.
As an example of the impact, let's revisit last Sunday's game. When Ger Brennan drew a black card just before half-time, St Vincent's had a top replacement in the form of Galway's Fiachra Breathnach.
He slotted in comfortably, leaving the defence probably just as strong as it had been with Brennan aboard.
Rhode would, no doubt, loved to have had a defender of Breathnach's calibre in the first instance, let alone as a replacement. Instead, they had to rely on their own resources. And, as bad luck would have it, they couldn't even field their best team due to the unavailability of defenders Anton Sullivan and Jake Kavanagh who are on overseas army duty.
Up front, McNamee's channels were blocked at every turn as St Vincent's knew that if that if he were restricted, Rhode's scoring power would be seriously weakened.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Connolly had Mayo's Enda Varley among his fellow raiders. Joe Feeney (Armagh), Brendan Egan (Sligo) and Lorcan Smyth (Westmeath) are also swimming in a deep Marino pool.
It's a strong club to start with but the addition of so many country players adds to its power. Of course, other Dublin clubs have country players aboard too so the issue goes far beyond St Vincent's. Ger Brennan said that since so many country people work in Dublin, it's natural that some players would declare for clubs in the Capital.
He's correct and nobody can interfere with their right to do that. However, it should remain a Dublin issue only. By all means allow country players to switch to Dublin clubs, where it's a level playing field in terms of acquiring their services, but it should not extend to provincial or All-Ireland level.
It's tough enough on the likes of Rhode, which draws from a population of 1,200, or Longford champions Mullinalaghta (450) to compete with big Dublin clubs anyway without having them strengthened by county players from elsewhere.
Dublin 'imports' should not be allowed export their talents into Leinster.