“Split Dublin GAA… It’s ridiculous… Too much money… Professionals”. It’s a common argument. And, on face value, maybe it has its merits. Does it make sense that a county with half a million in the Greater Dublin area and 1.2 million in the county – a quarter of the entire population – is allowed to compete without a handicap?
Surely by pure mathematics alone this makes perfect sense. There is already a physical – and some would say ideological – split in the capital, so why not divide the county according to the Liffey and be done with it? As the vast majority of the country will tell you, it’s no fun seeing Dublin walk to a Championship every year.
But is that actually the case?
I, like a lot of other soccer fans, watch a lot of La Liga. It’s arguably the most entertaining and skilful league in the entire world, and it’s also fiercely contested. The league is, traditionally, a three-horse race between Barcelona and the two Madrids, Real and Atlético.
In fact, since 2010, these three have split the title between them, Barcelona with a lion’s share of four titles and Real and Atleti with one apiece. The All-Ireland Football Championship since 2010? Dublin have taken three, with Cork, Kerry and Donegal taking one apiece. Yet, there are no calls to halve Barcelona, and make them play with two teams, one either side of Los Ramblas.
The fact that Dublin amble through the Leinster Championship every year is perhaps a handicap for them. Every other provincial heavyweight is guaranteed at least one stiff task before their All-Ireland quarter final, and in fact the Ulster Championship presents teams with multiple challenges in order to guarantee a place in the last eight.
It is hard to imagine seeing a result in Leinster similar to Tipp overcoming Cork or Galway pipping Mayo, because the gap in Leinster is just too large. Dublin last entered the qualifiers in 2010, having been thumped by Meath in the Leinster semi-final. They would then lose their All-Ireland semi-final to eventual champions Cork, having led the game from the first minute to the 70th. The fact that Dublin never engage past second gear until August – and often late August at that – surely is a testament to the quality of football they play when they encounter a Mayo, Kerry or Donegal in the latter stages.
Dubliners have carefully fostered the idea that when they play a match, they aren’t just playing one county, they’re playing the entire GAA. Driving down Lower Gardiner Street, the advertisement “We’d Love an All-Ireland, All of Ireland Would Hate That” screams from the railway bridge. Is that fair? Or is it just part of a natural leaning towards the underdog?
We all got swept away with the story of Leicester in the Premier League last season. The mighty underdogs becoming only the sixth team to lift the Premier League since its inception (again, a lot of dominant champions there). We all revelled in England’s loss to Iceland, a country with a population of roughly 0.6% of their opponents, and not just because of our natural support of England’s foes. Is this almost national hatred of Dublin merely a desire to see Goliath toppled at the hand of David?
Because, let’s be honest, people don’t begrudge Barcelona their success. They play beautiful football, the way it is supposed to be played. They have some very likeable players in the likes of Lionel Messi and Gerard Piqué, and some pantomime villains such as Luis Suárez and Sergio Busquets. They are entertaining to watch, and can the same not be said for Dublin?
Bernard Brogan and Ciaran Kilkenny are two very likeable characters, while the likes of Diarmuid Connolly is despised, if not respected, outside of the capital. Neither are the Kilkenny hurling team, or are there calls for the Nore to mark Kilkenny North and Kilkenny South. Are Dublin not the equivalent of Kilkenny in football? Dominant in Leinster, successful in the All-Ireland Championship, playing the most skilful and exciting play… the only difference seems to be Kilkenny’s status of the darlings of hurling, whereas Dublin are seen as some kind of evil, all-consuming machine.
Winning comes in cycles in all sports. Look at Leinster and Munster’s respective achievements in the Heineken Cup, Liverpool in the 1980s, and Manchester United in the 1990s. Success at that monumental level is unsustainable. And the numbers just don’t add up to the hyperbolic reaction we see from pundits, players and Joey propping up the Big Tree on a Sunday.
Dublin have won three All-Irelands since 1995, hardly a stellar return on their perceived population advantage. In that time, Kerry have won seven, including three in four years. Tyrone have won three. Meath, who Dublin strolled past in the Leinster semi-finals, have won two. Rather than complain, maybe we should just appreciate a team that is playing attractive football and getting just reward?
Rob O’Hanrahan, Pundit Arena