Friday 20 September 2019

John Greene: 'Dublin's dominance can't be used as an excuse for not doing things properly'

Dublin's Michael Darragh Macauley, left, and Cian O'Sullivan celebrate with the Sam Maguire
Dublin's Michael Darragh Macauley, left, and Cian O'Sullivan celebrate with the Sam Maguire
In football, arguably the more vulnerable of the two codes because it is the one that is, firstly, most widely played, and, secondly, most influenced by tactics, the malaise has spread to the pitch (stock photo)

John Greene

How will history view the GAA year just about to end? There's no doubt that Limerick's All-Ireland success and Mullinalaghta's Leinster win have been the hurling and football stories of the year, and a reminder not just of what is possible in the GAA, but also of what is being gradually eroded.

The truth about these fairytale wins, and an epic year all round for hurling, is that they create a false sense of optimism. The many difficulties being faced by clubs were added to in no small way by the introduction of the Super 8 in football and also the changes to the provincial hurling championships. Both moves were unnecessary. Originally, the club and county scene operated with one being an extension of the other; now, however, they are almost in direct opposition. This year's changes accelerated the prospect of an even greater split.

In football, arguably the more vulnerable of the two codes because it is the one that is, firstly, most widely played, and, secondly, most influenced by tactics, the malaise has spread to the pitch.

Someone made the point to me in recent days that the most depressing thing about the All-Ireland football championship now is the almost total lack of hope. At a time when Limerick and Mullinalaghta should be held up as examples of what can be achieved when you don't lose hope, we are left with a football landscape that is bleak, bereft of any real ambition. Dublin's dominance is total.

This lack of hope extends beyond the boundaries of Dublin's competition, to supporters and viewers too. So pervasive now is the ennui that Dublin's feat of winning a coveted four-in-a-row barely featured as a footnote in the various end-of-year awards handed out in recent weeks. As a colleague noted wryly, they must be the worst team to ever win four All-Ireland titles in a row.

Speaking recently on Off The Ball, Paul Rouse - who had his own brief experience of inter-county management when stepping into the Offaly hot-seat temporarily this year - said he refused to accept that any county, regardless of size, could not organise itself properly and put the correct structures in place to be competitive. This echoes Seán Boylan's long-held view about Meath that there are always 15 footballers in the county good enough to compete with anyone else.

It is not that Dublin's dominance is bad for the GAA, rather it is the failure of so many county boards to serve the game properly in their homelands which is the far greater problem. Counties which are well-run - at both club and county level - will eventually reap the reward. Winning trophies is great, but being the best that you can be is even better, and this is what the GAA should be about. Making the most of what is at your disposal - players, non-players and resources - is what is in the best interests of the GAA, because it helps keep the movement sustainable.

You don't have to look far beneath the surface to see that all is not well. Aside from the discord in the grassroots, there is a question as to whether the inter-county games in their current state are even sustainable. There are already rumblings among players about the rule changes in football and fears that the restriction on handpasses will - God help us - make the game even slower.

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In hurling, having to play four games in five weeks proved a huge strain on players and it's hard to believe that the addition of an extra week in 2019 will make much difference. In Munster, in particular, the intensity of the games, and the physical demands on players, was ferocious.

Then there are the events in Cork and Galway which recently came to light. The GAA's commercial nous - its ability to generate revenue and spend money wisely - has long been widely admired but this hard-earned reputation has been badly damaged by the revelations that Cork County Board managed to overrun on the cost of redeveloping Páirc Uí Chaoimh by up to €30m and that there had been some issues around the Galway board's finances a few years ago which led to an audit and stinging criticism from the current board treasurer.

For all the positivity around Dublin's historic feat, and for all the goodwill created by Limerick and Mullinalaghta, the dangers to the GAA remain very real.

So, how will history view 2018?

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