Take the Dubs out of Croker, says Longford manager Jack Sheedy
Longford manager and former Dubs star wants more Leinster games fixed for country venues
The Leinster football championship would benefit from ending Dublin's permanent residency in Croke Park and despatching them around the province for the initial stages.
The call comes from former Dublin midfielder/centre-forward and current Longford manager Jack Sheedy, who believes that it would be advantageous for the Leinster campaign on all fronts.
"It would boost other teams at a time when they are struggling to match Dublin and would also generate a great buzz at provincial venues. A packed ground always creates an atmosphere," he said.
Sheedy also believes that the experience would be welcomed by the Dublin squad, where only Alan Brogan and Stephen Cluxton have played a senior championship game outside Croke Park.
"I was on teams that played at various venues around Leinster and the lads always enjoyed it immensely.. It was great to pull into Tullamore, Portlaoise, Wexford or wherever and see the Dublin supporters crowding along the streets," he recalled.
"Many of them would have travelled down the night before and made an occasion of it. I'm sure the present Dublin team would enjoy the same experience as we had. It would also be good for country towns, bringing new business in."
If Longford beat Offaly in the first-round clash in Tullamore on May 16, Leinster's current policy of playing all Dublin's games in Croke Park will become a direct issue for Sheedy as the winners play the champions in the quarter-final on May 31.
The game is fixed for Croke Park as a double-header with the Dublin-Galway hurling clash.
It will be the ninth successive year that Dublin have all their Leinster games in Croke Park, leaving the 2006 quarter-final meeting with Longford in Pearse Park, where they were tested to the limit before winning by two points, as their last venture down the country.
Even when Dublin lost the 2010 Leinster semi-final to Meath, their three subsequent qualifier games against Tipperary, Armagh and Louth were played in Croke Park.
Neither Longford nor Offaly, who also meet in the Allianz League Division 4 final in Croke Park on Saturday evening, can dwell on the Leinster quarter-final venue at present as one of them won't qualify. However, Sheedy believes that as a general principle, the venue policy regarding Dublin should be reviewed.
"Counties would approach a game with Dublin with a lot more confidence if they were playing at home or at some venue other than Croke Park. Unfortunately, it won't arise this year as the winners of our game with Offaly will be heading for Croke Park for the Dublin game. Hopefully, it's a conundrum I'll have to deal with," he said.
"In future, though, I think there should be a re-think on playing all the Dublin games in Croke Park."
Saturday's Longford-Offaly clash will the fifth (three League and two Championship) meeting between the counties in 14 months, breeding a familiarity that may be a long way from contempt, but is very close to overkill.
Longford have won the last three meetings, the most recent coming last month when they ensured promotion with a three-point win in Round 6. Offaly had three players sent off but it was only in the closing minutes that Longford finally wore them down.
"As often happens when a team has players sent off, they raise their game. Offaly certainly did that," explained Sheedy.
"Also, we didn't play as well as we had in the games before that. Still, it was a great win as it meant we had clinched promotion before the last round. That was good going in a tough group."
Offaly, who dropped into Division 4 with Longford last season, secured promotion with a win over Antrim in the last round. Longford were the only unbeaten team across the four divisions, having dropped one point in a draw with Leitrim in the first game.
Saturday's final is coming at an awkward time for both counties, leading to suspicions that it can't be trusted as a guide to their championship clash three weeks later.
"Meeting three times in such a short space of time is not ideal for either of us but that's the way the cards have fallen," said Sheedy.
"And when you're in a final in Croke Park, you want to win, irrespective of what's ahead. It helps maintain momentum for the Championship so you'll get a genuine contest on Saturday.
"We both got out of Division 4, which wasn't easy, so now we want to put on a really good performance before the championship, which is only just around the corner."
On a broader front, Sheedy believes that some of the criticisms of the way Gaelic football has evolved are justified but he points out that there are reasons for the growing influence of the defensive side of the game. He believes it's part of a wider scenario.
"How many counties can win the All-Ireland this year? Maybe six and no more. The rest have to do their best with what they have and be competitive as possible when they come up against better sides," he said.
"The wider the gap between teams, the greater the emphasis is on working to avoid a big defeat. It's not good to watch at times but it's understandable that it's happening."
Sheedy would favour a close examination of the impact the handpass is having on the game and also favours taking steps to reward high fielding.
"I would like to see players, managers, coaches and rule-makers come together and examine what could be done to make the game more attractive," he said.
"We still have lots of good games and should always remember that we had bad ones in the past too, but we probably need to take a closer look at how the game is going. There's nothing to lose in doing that.
"On the defensive side, we're getting influences from rugby, soccer and even basketball. It's interesting, but it's not making the game better from a spectator viewpoint. I always liked the idea of a game where individual match-ups were big attractions.
"People talked about them in advance and they came to see them, lads going one-on-one against each other.
It doesn't happen very often anymore because of the way the game has gone," added Sheedy, who was a key figure on the Dublin team from 1991 until 1995 when a cruciate knee injury ruled him out for All-Ireland voyage.
Now in his second year as Longford manager, it has been a roller-coaster ride, involving relegation last year, followed by promotion this year.
In between was a championship campaign where Longford beat Offaly and lost to Wexford in Leinster before beating Derry and losing to Tipperary in the All-Ireland qualifiers.
The win in Celtic Park over Derry, who had reached the Division 1 final two months earlier, was a special occasion, but Longford bombed against Tipp next time out. They restored confidence and stability with a well-structured run through Division 4 this year.
"Saturday's game probably won't reveal everything about Longford or Offaly, but it's still better to win than lose in the last outing before the championship. It's a final in Croke Park. If you don't want to win that, why play football?" said Sheedy.