The Leinster Council have defended their decision to stage all of Dublin's football championship matches in Croke Park - insisting that's also the preference of other counties competing in the province.
It’s almost eight years now since Dublin last played a Leinster championship match outside of GAA headquarters, escaping from Pearse Park in June of 2006 with a narrow two-point win over Longford: some 15,000 supporters crammed into the midlands venue on the day, and the feeling was Longford at least partly unnerved Dublin by hosting them away from their own turf.
Yesterday, with some gently irony, the 2014 Leinster championship was launched in Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park, away from its traditional venue of Croke Park: however, the Dublin footballers will be in Croke Park on June 8th, as usual, where they will play the winners of Wicklow and Laois.
With Dublin seeking to win a fourth Leinster football title in succession – and 10th title in 14 years – the argument raised in Farmleigh House yesterday was that rival counties might have a better chance of taking them out of the equation if they played them away from Croke Park. But as Leinster vice-chairman Jim Bolger explained, the preference of other counties is to play them in Croke Park, as agreed at a Leinster Council meeting last year.
“It was raised by council members, and was given a good airing by all the counties who attended the Leinster Council meeting on the night,” said Bolger. “But in the end the decision was emphatic, that Dublin should play in Croke Park.
“The numbers, firstly, may not travel to a provincial venue, and because Dublin have been so successful in the last number of years, there is a better chance of getting a bigger crowd in a Croke Park venue. But it is something that we can revisit, and probably will revisit in the future. And I suppose a lot of people go back to that Longford game (in 2006), and people keep saying that to us . . . we had a good discussion about it, and the county representatives decided that the best decision for the council was to have Dublin playing in Croke Park, given the numbers.”
Smaller provincial venues
In other words there would be a cost to all counties if Croke Park wasn't used to house Dublin's championship games – given the less rewarding gate receipts of the smaller provincial venues; it's also accepted that most opposing players and managers prefer to get the chance to play in Croke Park.
Leinster chairman John Horan also addressed the subject of Dublin's perceived superiority in the province, and the increasing of an insurmountable gap developing between Dublin and the other football counties. "In the first five years of this millennium, we had five different winners of the Leinster football championship," said Horan. "But there is no doubt that Dublin has dominated the championship in recent years. They are certainly the benchmark in Leinster, and the team that all other counties in the province, and the maybe the country too, know that have to beat.
“It’s easy to point to this and that for Dublin’s success, but I think the simple fact is that they are an incredibly talented bunch of players, who continue to work ferociously hard to maintain the levels of success, when retaining the hunger to achieve even more.”
Bolger agreed that it’s a little too soon to say whether or not Dublin’s dominance is here to stay: “That is the perception, but then at half-time in the league semi-final, against Cork, what were the odds at that stage of them winning? I suppose it has been underpinned a bit by the All-Ireland under-21 final win last Saturday. But then Mayo only lost to them by a point last year in the All-Ireland final. And I believe that there are a lot of players and management teams who have already put a lot in this year, who are not of that mind, and are going to be very well prepared for the challenge.”
The Leinster Council were also to open to potential changes in their round-robin format of the hurling championship, which has been criticised as being over-demanding on the so-called weaker counties. "It is early days yet," said Bolger, "and we have to see it out, and see how the two teams who qualify through this system do afterwards, before we can make an informed decision. Again we can review this in the future, but it is extremely important that we analyse this correctly, and that we make a more informed decision than what we are making at the moment."
Also speaking on the issue of Dublin always getting home advantage in Croke Park was Meath midfielder Conor Gillespie, who reckoned it doesn't make any great difference. Meath were actually one of the few teams that pushed Dublin last summer, enjoying an early advantage in last year's Leinster final in Croke Park, before losing out 2-15 to 0-14.
“There’s definitely an argument, at the preliminary stages anyway, for taking Dublin out of Croke Park,” he said. “Maybe at the quarter-final stage you could bring Dublin down to the provincial grounds . . .
“But, ultimately, if you’re going to beat them, you’re going to have to beat them in a final and that’s going to be in Croke Park. And that, as a player, is where you want to play them. And I suppose if it is going to be a Dublin-Meath game at any stage then yeah, that’s where you want to play Dublin, in Croke Park.”