Darren Magee appeals for help for smaller counties
Former Dublin player and Wicklow selector says football becoming ‘too predictable’
Ciarán Kilkenny: the Castleknock club man has become a formidable cog in the current Dublin machine. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
It is a remarkable statistic that approaching just the second round of the Allianz Football League, 44 different players have already played competitively for Dublin this year.
That level of squad rotation normally goes hand in hand with defeat yet Dublin are sitting pretty at the head of affairs in Division One, albeit after just one game, and have pre-season silverware tucked away too.
It’s an ominous image that Jim Gavin’s side are projecting outwards and they’ll protect a 30-not-out record on Saturday evening when Mickey Harte and Tyrone come calling at Croke Park.
Far away from the glare of the TV cameras, former Dublin midfielder Darren Magee will watch the game content that he’s contributing in a very meaningful way to the county team’s solid march.
A multiple Leinster title winner with Dublin, Magee is a Games Development Officer with the Geraldines Patrick Moran club in south Dublin.
Outside of the county, many won’t even be aware of the club’s existence but the involvement of Magee underlines the ambition and determination that wells locally, and all around the county, to produce the next Ciarán Kilkenny and to maintain the current golden era.
“It’s a numbers game and Dublin have done a really good job of managing those numbers and getting the players through,” said Magee.
“Four years ago when I started it was a relatively small club but our numbers are growing. We’re sandwiched in between Cuala and Kilmacud Crokes, two clubs that don’t need the numbers.
“We started off with 14 kids from under-8 downwards and we’ve grown it to a point that from under-11 down we’ve got 35 kids per age group. It mightn’t sound massive but we don’t need any more because the club is small and if it grows any bigger we wouldn’t have the facilities.”
In all, there are over 50 full-time coaches in Dublin whose wages are paid by a combination of the host club and the county board. Across the border in counties like Meath and Kildare, the idea of employing figures like Magee in the biggest and most successful clubs, let alone the smallest ones, has been nothing more than an aspiration.
In all, there are 120 full-time coaches in Leinster, with around half of them spread throughout the counties outside of Dublin. The inequity of the situation, underlined by Dublin’s 11 Leinster title wins in the last 12 seasons, isn’t lost on anyone though there are high hopes that the new east Leinster project, which will set aside €500,000 per year for coaching in Louth, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow will seriously address the situation.
Strong interest has been shown by clubs in Meath and Kildare while key regions within Wicklow and Louth will be tackled. Those administering the project are confident that when Leinster football starts to thrive again, this will be seen as the beginning of the turnaround.
Financial equalisation, to give Dublin’s neighbouring counties a leg up, is in the pipelines too though, in the short- to medium-term, the future continues to look blue.
Magee was a selector in Wicklow up to last year and sees the gap that has opened up between between Dublin and the rest.
He feels that while tomorrow’s heavyweight bout between Dublin and Tyrone will capture the public’s attention briefly, a change of competition structures is still required to help out those that have been left behind. He pointed to Dublin’s recent trip to Louth for the Bord na Mona O’Byrne Cup final and reckons it shouldn’t be a one-off visit.
“If there’s something that can be tried to help out the smaller counties, why not try it out?,” said Magee. “Give it a trial for three years and have the players vote on it. They have to move with the times because it’s all just become too stagnant, too predictable and to be fair for the top teams it’s just not as much of a spectacle any more, it’s not as competitive. At the end of the day the GAA want bums on seats, if you want bums on seats then create more competitive games, more interesting games.
“Dublin went to Louth last month and the place was packed. Yeah, you might sell out smaller venues but more of the grass roots, more kids, will get to see it. Young lads aspire to seeing top players and whether it’s Dublin, Tyrone or Kerry, if you bring them around the counties and get the young lads out watching them it will instil that interest.
“I’m a Dub, it’s great to see them succeed. But let’s also create something that’s going to help the others to grow at the same time.”