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comment My five-point plan to address Dublin's All-Ireland dominance


Dublin players John Small, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny celebrate

Dublin players John Small, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny celebrate

Dublin players John Small, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny celebrate

In amateur sport, numbers matter. Only three counties with a population of less than 100,000 - Cavan, Roscommon, and Offaly - have won the Sam Maguire Cup.

Dublin has a population of 1,345,402. I often told my friends from Dublin during their bleak years between 1983 and 2012, when they claimed one title (1995), that if they ever got around to organising themselves properly, they would win a lot more.

The most prized silverware in Irish sport has now taken up semi-permanent residence in the capital city. Barring the biggest shock since Offaly stopped Kerry securing the five-in-row in 1982, Dublin will win their eighth All-Ireland title in ten seasons tomorrow.

And all the indications are that they will win again next year and have a decent chance in 2022 as well.

Having already turned the Leinster championship into their personal fiefdom, there is a possibility they will do the same to the All-Ireland series.

Granted, this was an unusual championship, but they have won their four matches by an aggregate of 69 points, or an average of 17.2 points per game.

In the short term at least, these figures threaten the integrity of the competitive element of the All-Ireland. A lot rests on the shoulders of Mayo tomorrow.

It’s not simply a case of Dublin having a once-in-a-generation team. They have created a football dynasty.

In the 1982 All-Ireland final Kerry fielded 12 of the team that started the 1978 final five years previously - and it would have been 14 but for injuries to Pat Spillane and Jimmy Deenihan. In contrast, Dublin are likely to field just six survivors tomorrow from their 2016 side.

The Brogan brothers, Diarmuid Connolly and Paul Flynn were supposedly once-in-a-generation forwards. They’re no longer involved, and Dublin are now winning All-Irelands more comfortably.

Likewise, Jack McCaffrey, Cian O’Sullivan and Philly McMahon were once viewed as indispensable. The latter pair are no longer first-choice players, while McCaffrey opted out of the squad. They haven’t been missed.

On the back of their All-Ireland triumphs, Dublin have also created a financial juggernaut.

In 2019, Dublin County Board’s commercial revenue was a staggering £2,170,250. While Insurance giants AIG are their main sponsors, they also have deals covering hotel, water, flight, gear, nutrition and menswear.

In contrast, their nearest football rivals, Kerry, took in £786,000 in commercial revenue, while Cork, which has more clubs than Dublin, generated £639,500.

Of course, all the money in the world won’t make a forward kick the ball over the bar, but don’t let anybody suggest it doesn’t make life easier.

One of the best kept secrets in the Dublin camp prior to last year’s two finals against Kerry was that world renowned physiotherapist Gerard Hartmann worked with Jonny Cooper and Cian O’Sullivan, who were nursing long-term injuries.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Hartmann recounted how he was amazed that nobody recognised the pair when he took them for a swim in the Forty Foot.

And then there was this gem: “Working in harmony with Dublin’s extensive medical team, Hartmann was stationed in the Gibson Hotel on the docks in the week of the replay, where ‘everything was laid out’ and he could ‘polish’ Cooper and O’Sullivan with treatments where necessary.”

Meanwhile, in the real-world, Paul Fisher, who had overseen Donegal GAA’s strength and conditioning programme for the last six years, stepped down last week. He confirmed that had the Donegal County Board the finances to appoint him as their full-time head of performance he would have stayed on.

Even though there is little empirical evidence that Dublin’s much-vaunted coaching and development programme was the catalyst for their All-Ireland successes since 2011, it is understandable that the funding is the subject of such controversy.

The figures are stark. Between 2007 and 2019 the Dublin County Board received €19,260,338 in direct funding from Croke Park for their coaching and development programme. Cork were the next biggest recipients with €2,425,287, while Mayo received €887,009. Even in terms of optics it’s all wrong.

And finally, there is the Croke Park factor. Stephen Cluxton has had a remarkable career.


Dublin players John Small, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny celebrate

Dublin players John Small, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny celebrate

Dublin players John Small, Brian Fenton and Ciarán Kilkenny celebrate

What is even more remarkable is that 100 of his 110 appearances have been at GAA HQ. I doubt if there is any other team – amateur or professional in the world – that has played so many key matches in the same venue over the last 20 years.

These are all facts – they are not part of a giant conspiracy to bring down the Dubs.

Previously, when Kerry and Kilkenny seemed on the brink of turning the football and hurling championship into a monopoly, the GAA acted.

In Kerry’s case, they outlawed hand-passed goals in 1983, while Galway were parachuted into the Leinster hurling championship in 2009.

Addressing the Dublin issue will be far more problematic. Here are five suggestions which could be implemented in the short term.

(1) All teams drawn against Dublin in the Leinster championship have home advantage and Dublin play their home league games in Parnell Park

(2) Dublin fund their Coaching and Development programme from their own resources

(3) The GAA fund all inter-county travelling and catering expenses

(4) Twenty-five percent of each county's commercial revenue is pooled and used to employ full-time strength and conditioning coaches and or commercial managers at county level

(5) Dublin-born players who are not included on the county squad are available to be 'drafted' by other counties up to a limit of four for counties in Division 3 and 4 and two for the rest.

It is better to light a candle than curse the dark.

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Online Editors