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Dublin’s Leinster championship could start in Croke Park

Dublin footballers were on the road for their last two opening championship games

Carlow’s Mark Rennick and Dublin’s Paul Mannion during their Leinster quarter-final at O’Moore Park, Portlaoise, in June. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Dublin could be headed back to Croke Park for their opening game of the Leinster football championship.

Agreement has yet to be reached on the venues for next year’s competition, and depending on preferences and expected attendances it may be considered the best way of accommodating the now seven-time defending champions. 

After going 10 years where all their Leinster championship games were fixed for Croke Park, Dublin went on the road for their last two opening games – playing Laois in Nowlan Park in 2016, and earlier this year playing Carlow at O’Moore Park in Portlaoise. In both cases Dublin won well in the end.

Unlike other provinces, first teams drawn are not automatically entitled to home advantage (although this is sometimes agreed on): Dublin will play the winners of Offaly and Wicklow, who meet on May 12th/13th, and under the new streamlined championship scheduling all four Leinster football quarter-finals must be played on the same weekend May 26th/27th.

This makes the option of a quarter-final double bill in Croke Park more attractive, possibly pairing Dublin and Offaly/Wicklow with the Meath-Longford game, or the meeting of Kildare and either Louth or Carlow.

The Leinster Council will meet on Wednesday of next week to agree on all such venues for the football and hurling championship, and according to Cian Murphy, communications executive with Leinster GAA, everything is up for grabs.

“Nothing has been decided ahead of the meeting on November 15th,” said Murphy. “All venues will be agreed on the night, with the consideration of all counties involved.”

Hype and novelty

It may also be that some of the hype and novelty of Dublin’s road trips is already wearing off: their 2016 quarter-final with Laois drew 16,764 to Nowlan Park, while this year’s quarter-final meeting with Carlow in Portlaoise drew 13,238.

Still, that’s the sort of attendance anticipated for 2018, as Dublin also go about winning a fourth All-Ireland in succession. Wicklow have already declared their interesting in hosting Dublin in Aughrim, should they beat Offaly in that preliminary round, although with a capacity of just under 9,000 it’s unlikely the Wicklow venue will be deemed suitable.

The Leinster Council still work off the Slattery Report when considering the suitability of venues, which also takes in health and safety concerns when setting the crowd capacity; should Offaly beat Wicklow, O’Connor Park in Tullamore would likely be considered suitable to host the Dublin game, but again that’s not automatic.

Carlow had hoped to host Dublin this year, when they beat Wexford to set up that quarter-final date, but Dr Cullen Park’s capacity did not satisfy the expected attendance.

In 2016, three options were put to the Leinster Council to host the quarter-final between Dublin and Laois/Wicklow; O’Moore Park, Aughrim, or Nowlan Park, and they opted for Nowlan Park. Something similar may arise on Wednesday week, and a preferred venue will be agreed on the night.

Pre-season competitions

Also to be agreed on the night will be the scheduling of games for the pre-season competitions – the O’Byrne Cup in football and Walsh Cup in hurling. As confirmed by the GAA’s master fixture list, released last week, both the 2018 Allianz football and hurling leagues will begin on the last weekend in January (27th/28th), which means the O’Byrne Cup is now likely to begin the last weekend in December (30th/31st).

Last month’s Special Congress did amend rules whereby provinces must finish their pre-season competitions prior to the start of the league, which means they could be played during a free weekend in the league: according to Murphy, however, the Leinster Council is likely to opt for their completion prior to the league, which would mean a first round of the O’Byrne Cup on December 30th/31st.

If continuing the Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday format, the semi-final could be played on January 14th, and the final on January 21st, before the season suddenly gets going for real.

Not long now.