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MacKenna On Monday: The Reasons For Dublin’s Success Are Not That Complicated

Dublin GAA

Perhaps it was lost between the All Ireland roars and the whoops and whines of the rugby brigade.

Perhaps it was simply chucked out because so many didn’t want to know about it.

But while the intercounty season is over on the pitch, it’s far from over. In fact, it was the middle of this month that one of the biggest decisions in the history of the All Ireland pushed onwards.

Let’s go back to September 16th to chart what happened and what has largely been ignored.

Dublin GAA

The week begins with a call from RTÉ.

Prime Time, no less.

Dublin funding, they say.

Good news, for this, is in part a different audience for an issue that might pale in relation to the real news they cover well, but in an Irish sporting sphere, it’s vital to keep beating the drum.

So we talk. And we talk. And we talk.

The facts. The figures. The accounts. The comparisons. The reality. The truth.

I mention in the interview that the whole notion of this being down to volunteering is as misplaced as it is insulting to those trying elsewhere. Anyone involved in these things knows that fundraising is the most soul-destroying part of voluntary efforts and accounts show Dublin barely do this, meanwhile, they get to celebrate as a reward while those that do do it get humiliated.

Brian Fenton

I mention that the idea that this can merely be replicated elsewhere is farcical given the funding handed over to Dublin for 15 straight years is so large that to roll it out would bankrupt the association and, while others have put together plans approved by the GAA themselves, they were still turned down a pittance. As for the population advantage, don’t make us laugh.

I mention that this is a conveyor belt and, while yet another golden generation, it’s hardly once-in-a-lifetime unless a lifetime is just a couple of years. After all, the average age across the five-in-a-row remained stable, meaning that if you subscribe to the linear theory of temporal physics it cannot actually be the same team. Stars replaced with stars. With more to come.

I mention the concept that this is somehow deserved for enduring barren years is absurd as not winning for a while shouldn’t mean the governing body in a sport should do everything it can to make sure a side dominates. Besides, there was no famine. Between their All Irelands in 1977 and 2011 there was another two titles as they remained second on the order of merit, another six finals, 16 provincial titles, and four leagues. More than most counties have won in history.

Paddy Andrews Niall Scully

I mention that the idea there’s a debate to be had around bias is rubbish as the numbers are black and white in the GAA and the Dublin accounts each year. How can you debate whether there’s been bias when in games development funding from Croke Park between 2007 and 2018 Dublin got €17.9m while next on the list was Cork with €1.43m, with the majority well below that?

This never made the cut though for Prime Time wanted a debate, as if a flat-earther should be introduced because someone has mentioned the globe happens to be round. The lean meat filleted, they left an anecdote, as that’s easier to rail against. And they’d just the man to do it.

Most of the segment on offer belonged to Cormac Ó Donnchú, the Na Fianna chairman. Given he’s no more than an officer with a capital club, what he was doing there to discuss an item involving the hierarchy of the association was confusing. But as a clubmate of president John Horan, he spoke the party line well and proceeded to repeat the same disproved guff once more.

Brian Fenton

He said it’s down to the hours of volunteering.

He said others need to replicate what Dublin have done and up their game.

He said this was a once-in-a-lifetime generation.

He said they’d endured the famine between 1977 and 2011.

Box-ticking bullshit.

What RTÉ choose to show is, of course, their right as they have a commercial interest, have paid for match rights, and therefore Dublin’s market makes their winning more valuable and worthwhile.

Sadly though, the GAA have seen it and continue to see it exactly this way too.

An amateur voluntary organisation engaging in appalling PR to trick 31 of their units, so they can continue to show massive favouritism to the single professional set-up as the game withers and dies.

dublin kerry ratings

* * *

Smokescreens happen for a reason.

The GAA has been full of them for that same reason.

Remember two seasons back when the association noticed crowds were falling and people tried to blame the style of football when it was in fact down to the foregone conclusion? So they came up with the idea of the Super 8s to deflect from the issues and so they could keep pandering to the one and only team that their attitude and actions have shown they care about.

It briefly turned heads but it was a shiny piece of coal rather than a diamond.

At least such a format didn’t hurt too many along the way though. Their new decoy will. What they are now putting to a vote at Congress will drastically change the landscape of football far beyond it lasts, and it gave another brutal glare into the deep dark soul of the association. On this occasion, they are willing to sacrifice half of their participants so we all look over there.

GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final, Croke Park, Dublin 1/9/2019 Dublin vs Kerry Dublin's Jack McCaffrey celebrates after scoring a goal with Paul Mannion Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

You’d think that when it comes to such a huge measure as a tiered championship that it would require serious statistics to back up its introduction but all we’ve been told from headquarters is that it’s a necessity based on the level of beatings handed out. That’s enough to put a motion to Congress for the introduction of an ‘A Championship’ containing all teams in Divisions One and Two as well as those from Divisions Three and Four that happen to reach a provincial final.

Presuming Cork reach a provincial final next year, making it a 17-team tier-one, consider the justification for partition. The average winning margin of those would-be Tier One sides against Tier Two sides across this summer was 8.04 points per game. Yet when looking at Dublin against Tier One teams, the average winning margin was 10.5 points per game. In other words, Dublin are nearly a goal better against top-tier counties than the rest of tier one are against tier two.

Yet it’s the latter being “solved” while the former carries on.

Think about that for a moment.

Nobody even wants this. The GPA, that bastion of elitism, asked for decisions not to go ahead yet. The CPA asked for it not to go ahead at all. Most from these counties don’t want it either as what young men in Louth and Down and Limerick will stick around to play in a Mickey Mouse Cup.

Dublin GAA

The GAA may have promised Croke Park games and live TV but they did exactly the same when segregating hurling, before finally getting bored with those below the poverty line and forcing them to have their championship run off in a few weeks before schools were even out, while putting up every barrier to stop them climbing the ladder. Why would this be any different?

Protectionism doesn’t scream thriving sport, nor does washing hands of the half. This is admitting defeat, showing there’s no need or at least no will to fight for those struggling. Crucially, having little chance at something is still better than having some chance at nothing.

And all this for what?

So you don’t keep looking at Dublin? So they can keep looking at Dublin?

The impression given is that everything is about to change. Just so nothing will change.

player ratings dublin

* * *

Why Dublin are so much better than everyone else might involve good planning and hard work in its conception and implementation, but when you break it down it’s not that complicated.

The games development officers spend time in schools growing the number of players coming through, and they go into clubs to help the quality of those players directly with their planning and via their workshops with other coaches. They also engage in crucial talent identification.

Already Dublin are in a better place with this but there’s another benefit. While they don’t have to fund the growth of the game at that youth level, it frees up their massive sponsorship for their elite sides. It’s why they can have a senior set-up that includes around 35 experts in any and all areas to improve players physically and mentally. Those sponsors also directly help those same players as the appearance fees, the cars, the food, the clothes and so on all mean less stress around finances, more time for training and recovery, and all in all a better athletic lifestyle.

Con O'Callaghan

You see it best around their strength and conditioning. Watch almost any game and the last 15 minutes show them against others doing all they can within their means. Even versus a side as well-prepared as Kerry, in the drawn match 14 men were able to summon one last push that brought them back and gave them a last kick to win it. Come the replay, despite seemingly facing the young and hungry guns, they reduced them to old men out on their feet in the final quarter.

There’s nothing fanciful about any of this.

Before Peter Keane took over, he was made aware of serious cut-backs due to the spiralling costs. Kerry’s nutritionist had their involvement cut to the bare bones. Supplements were removed, not for moral reasons but for financial savings. If a player was injured in training, a physio was provided that night after the session, but external work was up to the player themselves.

Dublin didn’t have these choices. They’ve a nutritionist and two assistants in that field alone. As one Kerry player notes of Dubliners they played Sigerson Cup against,

“Two years later after time in that county senior camp they are transformed. There’s no competing with their power as men. Their supplementation is taken to the absolute limit. Word has it they are even using large elements of the All Blacks weights’ programme and that came about because of the AIG link-up”.

All this income, and that’s before we get to their complete lack of costs.

We know Kildare were threatened around Newbridge or Nowhere due to not having a fit-for-purpose stadium, but when Dublin endured the same issue there was no forced investment as Croke Park was handed over to help them out. In 2016, when Mayo ran up a huge bill of €1.6m, what’s overlooked was that €600,000 of that was GPA mileage and travel which Dublin don’t have, and half-a million-was catering where Dublin have a partner for this.

Is it any wonder that those that tried to keep pace off the field so they could try keep pace on it are in trouble. Kildare went bust in the early part of the decade, Donegal this summer came up short on the bill around food in their centre of excellence, Mayo will be in debt for generations, Galway are cutting back all over the place. It’s an imbalance as ridiculous as the association’s feeble and false efforts at trying to redress it. Simply take the East Leinster Project as proof.

It involves €1.5m between Meath, Kildare, Wicklow and Louth over three years. That’s €125,000 each a year, or three games development officers each, or 12 of these professionals in total. That’s a dozen for an area with half of Dublin’s population when Dublin have over 60. Worse, that’s less than a fifth of Dublin’s officers for an area with 10,000 more registered players.

It’s far too little that’s far too late, for forgotten in Dublin’s dominance is how they were one bad day away from 15-in-a-row in Leinster. The province was allowed to fall and don’t think the same won’t be allowed happen on a national scale, no matter the formats dreamed up to divert.

Prime Time might not want to know about it.

The GAA might not want to change it.

Congress may well vote positively on that B Championship.

But it’s not the time to forget this charade and it’s, therefore, time to walk away from this charade.

Only then will there be fairness.

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Author: Ewan MacKenna

One of the country's top sports journalists, and a recipient of Irish Sports Journalist of the Year.