Dublin AGM: John Costello questions media reaction to Covid training breach

County chief discusses four-point goals and structural changes to football championship

John Costello has questioned the media rection to Dublin’s Covid-19 training breach. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

John Costello has questioned the media rection to Dublin’s Covid-19 training breach. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Christmas must be coming because the annual John Costello verdict is in, with the Dublin county board chief in reliably spiky form. As ever, Costello’s report to the Dublin AGM is a mix of thoughtful ruminations of the year just gone and wildly over-the-top posturing in defence of the assailed masses of the city’s GAA scene. It’s as much a part early of December as hearing the first bars of Fairytale of New York.

Of the more headline-grabbing items, Costello addresses the Covid breach by the Dublin footballers back in the spring and repeats the sackcloth and ashes apology of the time. He goes on to give a backlash to the backlash, and predictably enough doesn’t spare the rod on the press coverage of the incident.

“One thing that is worth mentioning on reflection was the level, intensity and tone of some of the media commentary – and this, most certainly, is not any attempt to defend the indefensible.

“The tone, at times, was one of ‘these lads should be arraigned for treason’ and that they were guilty of burgling the bank of youth from the young citizens of the country. For almost two weeks, some media organisations turned over every stone to see if they could squeeze yet more mileage out of the story.

“Was the same attitude applied to other teams who were also in breach? Or to a team from a different sporting code who broke restrictions to go outside the jurisdiction for social events? And that’s before even mentioning any political ‘socials’. Most certainly not. Would ‘The Hawks against the Dubs?’ be an aphorism for the time?”

Elsewhere, Costello reasserts Dublin’s position as the most put-upon superpower in the GAA when taking to task the campaign by John Connellan, the former Westmeath footballer who continues to question the level of central funding the flows into the capital annually. Costello rejects several strands of Connellan’s thesis, the most interesting of which was the idea that Dublin’s last published set of accounts showed a €2.7m profit.

“Now this one is a right head-scratcher!” Costello writes. “Nevertheless, it was widely reported in the media and online with feverish enthusiasm – without carrying out the first principle of journalism – check your facts!

“In 2020, Dublin GAA recorded a deficit of €172, 847. If the figure Mr Connellan was referring to was pre-Covid i.e. 2019, Dublin GAA recorded a profit of €718, 561 which was the largest we ever recorded.”

Big-picture

On the more big-picture issues, Costello is, as ever, much more measured and, by extension, much more interesting. When a voice as influential as his brings up the idea of increasing the worth of a goal to four points, it automatically goes from being a pie-in-the-sky notion to being firmly on the agenda.

“The aim is simple – primarily to encourage attacking play and then perhaps, as a by-product, to increase entertainment levels. And that’s precisely what goals inject into a hurling point-fest – and equally a game of football. The only trouble, in recent years, is that the adrenaline rush of a goal can sometimes evaporate in a matter of minutes, as your opponent responds with a necklace of quickfire points. This can be especially frustrating in a hurling game dominated by multiple frees from all manner of distances, even beyond 100 metres.”

Similarly, Costello’s views on the championship structures in football are hardly revelatory but they ought to carry a decent amount of weight. The coming year promises to be the one where the next steps are taken towards fundamental change. Say what you like about the Dublin secretary, he can never be doubted for his commitment to progress in this regard.

“There is a groundswell of opinion for changing the All-Ireland football championship, a mood shared by those at the top of the organisation in Croke Park and, to a large degree, by the grassroots. The Dublin County Board is of a similar disposition. I have argued in previous Convention reports that our championship structures have been hostage to the demarcations of history and geography for too long and, while on the Fixtures Review Task Force, I continued to hold that view.

“Two interesting points emerged from our club survey in Dublin on the issue of SFC reform. Firstly, the scheduling of intercounty games, with provincial championships running practically straight into a league-based All-Ireland series, was considered too match-heavy and with many clubs arguing that it needs tweaking.

“Secondly, several clubs in related correspondence with the Dublin County Board at the time of our survey favoured another debate on the previous Congress decision to bring forward the All-Ireland SFC final to July, given the loss of marketing, especially in schools around All-Ireland time. Suffice to say, the campaign for change hasn’t gone away.”

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