Sunday 18 August 2019

Tomás Ó Sé: 'People asking legitimate questions about Dublin's advantages are immediately branded 'anti-Dub''

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Dublin players standing for the national anthem in front of Hill 16 last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile
Dublin players standing for the national anthem in front of Hill 16 last Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

Tomás Ó Sé

Isn't it a great pity that GAA people asking questions about the advantages coming the way of Jim Gavin and his boys are branded, almost on reflex, "anti-Dublin"?

It's become the ultra-defensive response to legitimate concerns, which is one of the reasons why I welcomed 'Pillar' Caffrey entering the debate about Dublin's two home games in the Super 8s (something nobody else gets), specifically his comment that "anyone saying it isn't an advantage isn't telling the truth".

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Honestly, it needs more Dublin people to do this, to be open to discussion on what is clearly a glaring inequity in the system rather than see it as some kind of rural attack on the city boys.

Put it this way, I like John Horan, the GAA president. But I want to stop thinking of him as the Dublin GAA president or 'Dublin John' as I've heard him called. He's not just president for the city, he's president for us all. So if he's asked a question about this issue, I don't want him defending it. I want him discussing it.

Bear in mind that Dublin's two home games effectively condemns one of the teams in their group (Roscommon this year) to two away games. How in anyone's estimation is that fair?

By the way, I very much doubt the Dublin players would have any issue with this anomaly being removed. I doubt Gavin would. They're good enough and bold enough to play anybody anywhere.

But then there's the money.

The day Dublin blew Meath away in the latest Leinster final mismatch, this came up again for debate in 'The Sunday Game' studio. A badly-needed leg-up provided to Dublin GAA when the late John Bailey was county board chairman and Bertie Ahern was Taoiseach has now mushroomed into something very different.

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My understanding is that Dublin got €1.3 million in Games Development money last year, a year in which their footballers secured a fourth All-Ireland in a row. Tyrone, whose team they beat in last year's final, received €119,000.

In Dublin, that money pays for 50 per cent of every Games Development Officer's salary, a good thing because my experience is that the work of GDOs is resolutely positive, not just in sport but society in general.

I believe there's about 70 currently working in Dublin (there's fewer than 10 in Cork), which means 70 clubs effectively have to come up with 50 per cent of that salary.

Now I may be wrong, but I suspect that challenge is easier met by a Dublin club than one in a very rural spot. A big city club, as we've seen, can attract corporate-level sponsors. Down where I come from, that kind of money would be just pie in the sky.

For all that, why shouldn't they tap into that help when they have such a catchment area on their doorstep? Population is a huge advantage, though it brings with it certain difficulties too.

And, for me, what we're witnessing with Dublin football right now is actually a perfect storm, one that makes me fear the potential they have to dominate.

The support structures put in place by Bailey and Ahern, well justified at the time, may be one thing. But the advantages Dublin GAA enjoys are hopelessly accentuated by the fact that their marquee football team happens to be led by, arguably, the best manager the GAA has ever seen.

Nobody who reads this column regularly needs to be told how much I admire Gavin and this Dublin team.

And if this argument was simply about money, how is it that so many other teams in blue are struggling to have any success? Dublin's GAA money isn't just being ploughed into a single team. But it's only a single team that's really generating this debate.

Maybe that's what happens when you have so many once-in-a-generation players coming through at the same time like Kilkenny, Fenton, Cluxton, Macauley, McCarthy, Bernard Brogan and McCaffrey.

My own view is that hindsight will reveal Gavin to be a once-in-a-generation manager too. So you can make the argument legitimately that they have every advantage going, but they still have to do so much themselves to make it count.

Trust me, you could throw money at any team you like and it wouldn't bring a guarantee of success. That point seems to get overlooked in every conversation about the Dubs.

For all that, it shouldn't mean we're labelling people with an anti-Dublin agenda for suggesting the funding issue needs to be clarified and, if need be, rectified.

I'll put it this way. This might sound a perverse thing to say given they may just be the greatest team we've ever seen, but dump Dublin out of the equation and this would be some championship.

I mean right now we've got one Super 8s group (Kerry, Donegal, Mayo and Meath) that absolutely ticks every box of why we wanted this new structure. In other words, everything on the line going into the last weekend with Mayo-Donegal likely to be an absolute belter.

Then we've the other group (Dublin, Tyrone, Cork and Roscommon) which, let's be honest, has just served to remind us why Dublin are like no other GAA team we've ever seen.

The thing is, it doesn't matter what kind of championship structure you put in place, Dublin - as they stand - will still make one half of that structure look a little lop-sided. Futile nearly.

Personally, without Dublin in the equation, I think you'd find it hard to pick a winner right now between Kerry, Donegal and Tyrone.

It's true, a lot of teams have made big strides this year. Cork maybe more than anyone and, again, I always felt that those type of performances were in them.

For me, the two big underachievers were probably Kildare and Galway. No surprise I suppose in the case of the former, but the latter have to be deeply frustrated with their failure not to make the Super 8s. That said, it feels like we're talking about a championship that's nearly already resolved.

Dublin can adjust to three or four different styles in a single game with each change looking seamless and I've never seen that in another GAA team. It's phenomenal.

On a separate issue, I'm inclined to agree with Paul Rouse's argument about a two-tier championship being a way of simply deepening the divide between the haves and the have-nots in the game rather narrowing the gap.

Rouse's argument is that, unless a 'B' championship is underpinned by some kind of properly funded development plan for those contesting it, it's just going to leave those counties adrift.

In an ideal world, I think everybody should be involved in the race for Sam Maguire.

So a second tier must absolutely have some kind of pathway to the All-Ireland championship itself. Like I sometimes think we don't actually have an All-Ireland championship in hurling. We have a competition between maybe eight counties, not 32. To some degree, the same could be said for football just now.

Except some might argue it's worse than that. It's really just about a single team.

The president seems adamant that this second tier is coming. I admire his certainty. But, as Rouse puts it, the positives of such a move could just prove an illusion unless it's backboned by a plan.

There's a huge issue for the GAA right now in that a lot of players from so-called 'lesser' counties see the National League as the only viable competition they play in. When it comes to championship, they find better attractions in America. And that's what a 'B' championship is intended to tackle.

But people aren't stupid. They don't want to be patronised either. They want to be treated as equals.

And, across so many different strands of the GAA today, that just isn't happening.

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