Ciarán Murphy: You do not level the playing field by weakening Dublin
If population is the only ingredient how has anyone else had a look-in since 1884?
It’s a startling, shocking idea, but hear me out. I know it’s blowing up the entire system upon which we have organised our intercounty games for 133 years, but something has to be done. We can’t keep going on like this.
So – let’s amalgamate Westmeath, Laois and Offaly. They’re just not competitive any more. We’re not giving players who grow up in these counties a chance to reach their potential. They are hamstrung by a population deficit that just can’t be overcome. Don’t those players deserve a shot at the big time?
Of course, I don’t really believe that, but I do think that makes a lot more sense than splitting up Dublin, as has been widely disseminated in recent days in light of Dublin’s sustained excellence.
I would be concerned about any attempt to level the playing field that aims at lowering the top standard rather than raising up the lowest.
Dublin have won five All-Irelands in the last seven years. They have reduced the Leinster championship to rubble, certainly. And they have got their act together at county board level. And that’s what has brought this idea back to the forefront.
But to hear Colm O’Rourke and Joe Brolly on the Sunday Game last weekend you would think that massive inward migration into Dublin has doubled, tripled and then multiplied the population in the city in the last 10 years – creating a huge numbers imbalance that we have to sort out as a matter of urgency.
Dublin has had a massive population advantage over the rest of the country since the GAA was founded. To use that as your reason to split up Dublin now is disingenuous in the extreme.
If population is the only ingredient you need for success, then how has anyone else had a look-in since 1884?
How did Dublin go 16 years without an All-Ireland win before this team’s first in 2011?
So we should look at what has actually happened in the last 20 years that has been different to what had happened before. Dublin has hired coaches at a historic rate, got them into clubs, and they’ve been given money by the GAA to do it – money they have spent wisely. On top of that they’ve gone out and got sponsorship money at a rate that no one thought possible.
Now think about your own county. Think about how ready for the next 20 years your county is. Would you be confident in the ability of your county board to spend a massive cash influx as wisely as that?
Are the people currently in charge of the games in your county ready to meet the challenge of Dublin?
In the vast majority of cases the answer must be no. That doesn’t sound like a good argument for handicapping the one county that’s capable of capitalising on their fortunate circumstances.
At one stage on Sunday night Brolly said the game in Dublin, Kerry, Mayo, and Tyrone was in a good state but not everywhere else. None of the advantages that Dublin have are applicable to those other counties. They’ve all found their own route to sustainability and success in the game.
So what exactly are we talking about here? It seems to me to be a massive over-reaction to a brilliant team, with a brilliant manager, who have won five All-Ireland finals by a cumulative points total of...seven.
If population and coaching money were the sole arbiters of success then the difference would be most keenly felt at minor level where a new team must be created from scratch every year.
But it has been Kerry who has won the last four minor titles in a row. Kildare have won more Leinster minor titles in the last five years than Dublin.
That is not to say that a recalibration isn’t needed – it is. Dublin have profited disproportionately from both games development money and sponsorship money, and now it’s time to ensure that everyone else is given a leg-up – as Dublin were when the GAA feared at the turn of the millennium that the games would be subsumed by rugby and soccer in the city.
The NFL and the UFC are two of the most nakedly corporate sports entities in the world. And they have centralised contracts for sponsorship. The NFL negotiates sponsorships with companies as a league, not as 32 separate franchises, and Conor McGregor has to wear the same apparel as everyone else in the UFC despite the fact that all the rest of those bums are getting rich off him (as the man himself would say). If it’s acceptable there it should be acceptable in the GAA.
Money matters, of course, and there’s plenty of it sloshing around. If we’re worried about inequality then start with redressing that financial imbalance. That doesn’t have to be at the expense of Dublin.
The same people who think the Sky TV deal is an abomination are pretty blasé about tearing up the 32-county structure of our games after six years of good results for Dublin.
If there’s a county or provincial administrator who can sell the GAA hierarchy on a new dream, and a new way of funding the games, as John Bailey did to Dublin’s benefit in the late 1990s, then I get the impression the GAA will be all ears.