Dublin split of­fers more play­ers a chance to shine

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - COLM O’ROURKE

IN 2002 the GAA’s strate­gic re­view com­mit­tee came up with some ev­ery in­ter­est­ing pro­pos­als. Look­ing back 15 years later, the most im­pres­sive thing as­so­ci­ated with the body chaired by Pe­ter Quinn was the cal­i­bre of peo­ple in­volved, from busi­ness­men to fu­ture GAA pres­i­dents, and the rad­i­cal con­clu­sions they ar­rived at on many as­pects of the GAA.

As with many im­pres­sive GAA re­ports, the best parts gather dust. A bit like Yes Min­is­ter, where some­one with a bright idea is told to go off and pre­pare a re­port. The re­port is highly praised and then buried. So it was with many parts of the SRC.

The juicy bit which gar­nered the head­lines in 2002 was the pro­posal to split Dublin in two — north and south of the Lif­fey. It was not just thrown out there either. Two mi­nor teams were im­me­di­ately called for, while the pro­posal was that there would be two se­nior teams in the Na­tional League in 2004 and the same in the cham­pi­onship in 2005.

Pe­ter Quinn said at the time that, Dublin “can’t be con­sid­ered the pre­serve of 90 clubs and one county ex­ec­u­tive”. The com­mit­tee also rec­om­mended “size­able in­vest­ment in terms of fi­nance and per­son­nel, we recog­nise that Dublin needs spe­cial at­ten­tion, it’s a key strate­gic mat­ter”. So the SRC got ev­ery­thing ex­actly right ex­cept the main part, the split, which, iron­i­cally, is some­thing we are nor­mally very good at, whether dif­fer­ent para­mil­i­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions, unions, clubs or the coun­try it­self.

Dublin just ig­nored it and the whole lot went away as no­body else was brave enough to force through Quinn’s pro­pos­als once he handed them over. Suc­ces­sive pres­i­dents and di­rec­tors gen­eral paid it no heed. It was a case of thanks very much Pe­ter and close the door be­hind you on the way out.

At that time (2002) the pop­u­la­tion of Dublin was about 1.12 mil­lion. Since then, the pop­u­la­tion has grown to 1.34 mil­lion. The ex­pec­ta­tion is that in five years’ time Dublin will have a pop­u­la­tion close to 1.5 mil­lion. The to­tal pop­u­la­tion of the Repub­lic in 2016 was in the re­gion of 4.76 mil­lion.

There are the lies, damned lies and statis­tics, as Mark Twain said, but maybe a lit­tle com­par­i­son would be help­ful. Three of the teams that Dublin played against in the first divi­sion of the league this year have the fol­low­ing pop­u­la­tions: Roscom­mon 64,000, Ca­van 52,000 and Mon­aghan 60,000. Mayo have about 130,000 res­i­dents, al­though this is prob­a­bly swollen by an­other 50,000 dur­ing the sum­mer and for All-Ire­land fi­nals.

If you make the ar­gu­ment that Dublin is the best thing there is for the GAA in terms of pro­file, spon­sor­ship, in­come and colour in Croke Park, then the idea of any change is blown out of the wa­ter. You could also fac­tor in the ar­gu­ments made by for­mer Dublin play­ers that this golden era will not last for­ever, and there are those from out­side who don’t want to see change as “it would not be the same beat­ing any­thing other than a full Dublin side”.

So, af­ter 25 Le­in­ster Cham­pi­onships in-a-row and 15 All-Ire­lands later the ar­gu­ment will be that it might be a good idea but not yet. And old men with grey beards will tell sto­ries about see­ing Meath or Kil­dare beat­ing Dublin and, of course, Kerry man­aged it too.

Yet few seem to ever ask what the GAA is about. Is it about par­tic­i­pa­tion and op­por­tu­nity, or just win­ning? Could all of th­ese things be com­bined, but in a dif­fer­ent way to what Real Madrid, Manch­ester United and some of the big French rugby clubs are do­ing? We in the GAA should be work­ing to a dif­fer­ent model. So­cial­ism is not a pop­u­lar con­cept but the GAA is based on equal­ity, com­mu­nity in­volve­ment and op­por­tu­nity for play­ers to per­form at the high­est level. With­out per­sonal gain en­ter­ing into it. There is noth­ing else in life or in the big, bad world quite like the GAA model.

Young play­ers as­pire to play in Croke Park. If they are from Dublin they first of all want to play for the Dubs in a big match. Apart from the ab­so­lute elite, that quickly be­comes an un­re­al­is­tic dream, so the hopes and as­pi­ra­tions are dashed pretty quickly. What they are left with then is club foot­ball; noth­ing wrong with that either if there is a proper games pro­gramme in place. How­ever, thou­sands in Dublin lose out and there is more chance of young play­ers in ev­ery other county play­ing in Croke Park than young Dubs. Is that fair? If you be­lieve in world dom­i­na­tion then that is the price you pay.

This year alone Dublin won the O’Byrne Cup in Le­in­ster with their third-string panel. How dis­en­chanted they must have felt af­ter that early-sea­son win when they knew that the vast ma­jor­ity, apart from Niall Scully, Conor McHugh and a few other subs, would never play for Dublin again un­less the All-Ire­land-win­ning squad go on an­other hol­i­day in Jan­uary.

But they don’t count, they are the can­non fod­der. Nat­u­rally, there are many Dublin sup­port­ers who view my com­ments as com­ing from a bit­ter and twisted man who wants to pe­nalise Dublin for their suc­cess and the bril­liant or­gan­i­sa­tion that is in place on the ground. Well, so be it.

If the pro­posed changes had been made in 2002 then calls for more rad­i­cal break-ups would not be sur­fac­ing now. The lat­est cen­sus shows the four Dublin dis­tricts with the fol­low­ing pop­u­la­tions: Dublin city 553,000, Dún Laoghaire 217,000, Fin­gal 296,000 and South Dublin 278,000. Surely there is a need not just for more than one county side, but also a greater num­ber of clubs too.

Maybe Cork with 125,000 in the city and 416,000 in the county would be bet­ter off apart too? A split there would mean that at the very least, there would be the prospect of twice as many rows. In Le­in­ster, the next big­gest coun­ties to Dublin are Kil­dare with 222,000 and Meath 194,000. Both should also be do­ing bet­ter.

It is hardly un­re­al­is­tic to think that if Dublin was split in 2002 the two would have met in Le­in­ster fi­nals, maybe even All-Ire­lands. At this stage they would have their own iden­ti­ties, fan base, spon­sors and ev­ery­thing else. The ship has sailed on that one, but is it to be ‘no sur­ren­der’ for­ever and to hell with the con­se­quences for thou­sands of out­stand­ing play­ers who would get a chance to play county foot­ball if they were born any­where else?

Pop­u­la­tion or re­sources don’t guar­an­tee any­thing, but if all the re­sources are backed up by ef­fi­cient use then that is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

The core value of the GAA is that it is a true com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion and the dan­ger of split­ting Dublin two, three or four ways is that this sense of be­long­ing would be lost and that spon­sors like AIG would jump ship. If com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions in­flu­ence us to that ex­tent, then we have truly lost what the GAA is sup­posed to be.

New clubs spring up in rapidly-ex­pand­ing ur­ban ar­eas, they take time to put down roots like in Castle­knock, but they grow and garner lo­cal sup­port over time. Most im­por­tant of all is that they in­crease par­tic­i­pa­tion rates. Key to that is peo­ple work­ing for the good of their com­mu­nity. Would it be any dif­fer­ent with more county sides?

Dublin, even in their present form, won’t dom­i­nate for­ever. Peo­ple will look now and say that when Dublin were on top at times in the past, the same calls were made and they then went long stretches with­out suc­cess. What was taken on at the time of the SRC in 2002 was to im­prove Dublin by clearly iden­ti­fy­ing the need for sub­stan­tially more per­son­nel and fi­nance.

That has been a won­der­ful suc­cess through the hard work of thou­sands of vol­un­teers un­der John Costello and, more im­por­tantly, the ef­fec­tive coach­ing in schools and clubs by full-time coaches.

The big­ger pic­ture was to spread the gospel at county level. Through short-sight­ed­ness this has not hap­pened. Pe­ter Quinn was not afraid to step on the lion’s tail 15 years ago. It will be more dif­fi­cult now.

Gen­eros­ity of spirit is needed in Dublin, but the fail­ure to de­liver on the full SRC re­port has left the GAA in the city and county as the most pop­u­larly sup­ported or­gan­i­sa­tion but with the fewest op­por­tu­ni­ties for young play­ers to get to the top.

Thanks very much Pe­ter and close the door be­hind you on the way out

Dublin’s Ciarán Red­din lifts the Bord na Móna O’Byrne Cup in Jan­uary

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