Sunday 21 January 2018

Billy Keane: Time for Croke Park to take a hit and send Dubs on the road

Financial gains can't justify unfairness of home advantage

Dublin's Eoghan O'Gara attempts to get past Cork's Tom Clancy during their Allianz NFL semi-final in Croke Park. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Dublin's Eoghan O'Gara attempts to get past Cork's Tom Clancy during their Allianz NFL semi-final in Croke Park. Photo: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Facts can be dreadfully inconvenient. There is little doubt, but that it is easier to win at home. Are we all in agreement on this one? All those in favour, say aye. Carried.

Dublin play all of their championship matches on their home ground. It's a massive advantage.

The Dubs are box office and it's all about money. Will all those in agreement, raise your hands. Carried unanimously.

We have another fact for you. The population of Dublin is more than one million and rising by the day. Leitrim is the county with the smallest population. About 50,000.

This summer Leitrim will be travelling to Hyde Park to take on Roscommon for the first round of the Connacht championship, while Dublin will play their first match in Croke Park.

Dublin have become incredibly well organised at primary schools level. Finals are played in Croke Park and the GAA in the city has done a marvellous job in looking after kids.

The hard work has two aims. Firstly, the kids are playing sport which yields a precious dividend for society, and secondly the Dublin teams will benefit.

The GAA pumped millions into hurling in Dublin with a view to establishing a new force in the game. The Dublin clubs play football and hurling.


The lessons learned from the hurling restructuring were passed on to football. The same kids are good at both sports. So it is that the money earmarked for Dublin hurling has had an unintended boost for football.

AIG are the Dublin sponsors and the deal is worth at least €2m to Dublin over the next five years.

Dublin is getting bigger by the day. Their dominance will grow and grow. Carried without a single vote against.

Deep in to the second half of last Sunday's Allianz League semi-final between Dublin and Cork, the Dubs were gifted a very soft penalty.

The sequence of play in the build-up to the penalty included an unpunished late tackle on a Cork forward and a 50-50 call against another Cork forward in a scoring position. The Dubs swept down the pitch majestically and scored a goal from the penalty.

The momentum of the game was already going very much Dublin's way. The penalty call finished off Cork.

The facts are that home teams usually get the marginal calls. The penalty wasn't even a marginal call.

Now, we are not accusing the referee of bias, but maybe subconsciously the call was influenced by the huge Dublin support.

It's impossible to say what influence the crowd has on a ref and we must emphasise that there is no allegation whatsoever that the referee made a conscious decision to favour Dublin.

Under the same pressure, the 2011 final referee made several major mistakes, which along with a Kerry error, cost us the All-Ireland.

Now, you may argue with this point and accuse me of being pro- Kerry, but here is one fact on which there can be no dispute – the referee decided on one minute of injury-time. This was a shocking decision.

This problem can be fixed by the GAA. Referees need to be trained into being extra careful to watch out for the subconscious.

Yes, the Dubs are box office. If Cork had won last Sunday, there would be 30,000 less at the final.

Jim Gavin has revolutionised Gaelic football. His team play the game as it should be played.

Dublin were the first team to beat the packed defences by attacking them full on. Gaelic football owes a huge debt to Dublin.

Last season's epic semi-final against Kerry was a classic and the better team won. No doubt about that.

The team has grown in confidence. Their style of play is close to perfect and that can only be good for the game.

Dublin know every inch of Croke Park. You might say all fields are the same, but Croke Park is the biggest pitch in the country. Playing there regularly is a massive advantage.

Cork were happy enough to play in Croke Park for the experience, but the championship is a different matter.

Dublin will open up their campaign with a home game on June 8 against the winners of Wicklow and Laois, who will be several points down ever before they kick a ball.

This is not the only inequity. The Munster football championship is seeded. If any county other than Kerry and Cork are to win, they will have to beat Kerry and Cork in the same year.

The romance has been taken away. The money men have taken over the GAA. Clare, Waterford, Tipperary and Limerick were badly wronged.

Only Garth Brooks will get as much on-field time or make as much money for the GAA as Dublin this summer.

We might argue that the GAA needs the money, and it does. So here is the dilemma for the GAA.

There will come a time when Dublin will be heading for three or four in-a-row. Only then will there be a protest from most counties who put money before pride and are content to take the back door every time.


The only thing that will stop Dublin is bad management and at the moment they have the best in the business, with superb professional fitness advice available.

The manager may not be paid but his back-up team are. The quaint notion that the GAA is an amateur organisation is far from true.

Sad to say that in sport, you can buy success. The GAA is no different. Only counties with big budgets can win an All-Ireland.

But the GAA should be different. The whole concept of equality has been lost. As a Kerryman, I would hate to play Dublin anywhere other than Croke Park.

The GAA needs Dublin. There is no better place to be than Croke Park for a Dublin game. I love the banter, the carnival, but the Dubs must be made to travel for championship matches.

That would begin to fix the inequity and it would be in Dublin's long-term interests. For a start, it would shut up the likes of me and thousands like me.

There may be more serious consequences down the line. We would hate to see the partition of Dublin. There could well come a time when an All-Ireland final will be contested between Dublin South and Sligo-Leitrim.

So, Dublin give up yer oul home advantage.

Irish Independent

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