O’Neill says Dublin’s success reflects well on the GAA
Former president cautions about lack of impact in working-class urban areas
Former GAA president Liam O’Neill: “Gaelic games in Dublin is now a middle-class pursuit. Soccer still holds the traditional working-class areas. We haven’t cracked the city as well as people think.” Photograph: Andrew Paton/Inpho
Former GAA president Liam O’Neill has argued that the success of Dublin should be seen as a cause for satisfaction rather than a source of criticism. In the week when the release of the association’s financial report showed that Dublin continues to receive games development grants five times greater than the next highest recipient, O’Neill also drew attention to the fact that Gaelic games still have plenty of ground to cover in the capital.
He said that the association’s priority was to improve the numbers playing in the city, and that the focus was never on making the county more competitive.
“I was asked when I was finishing in Leinster was it important for Dublin to win. I gave an honest answer that on a purely commercial level it was only important that they get to the semi-finals because the finals look after themselves. I said that it was probably more important that Westmeath win, which didn’t go down well in Dublin at the time.
“The GAA just wants as many people playing the games in Dublin as possible. It was never envisaged that it would work to the extent that it has. That needs to be understood by people. There were so few people playing in Dublin at that stage that it was a scandal.
“When you think of all the criticism the association gets for the strength of Dublin, can you imagine the uproar if we hadn’t done that at that time and Dublin was now a wasteland. What sort of criticism would we be getting now?
“If that hadn’t been done there would be whole swathes of Dublin without a GAA presence, and it could justifiably be said that the organisation let Dublin down. They looked after the country areas where they’re strong and forgot the urban base.”
Old Dublin population
O’Neill cautioned, however, that the spread of the games had been disproportionately to more affluent areas, with, for instance, traditional working-class hurling clubs struggling to stay afloat.
“I’ve a great affinity with Dublin. I spent eight years there playing hurling with Fontenoys and involved with UCD. A lot of the success was built on people from the country getting involved, and to an extent we never really cracked the old Dublin population. Not really. Gaelic games in Dublin is now a middle-class pursuit. Soccer still holds the traditional working-class areas. We haven’t cracked the city as well as people think.”
He is aware of the irony that Dublin weren’t especially enthusiastic about the whole idea of coaches being provided in the county when the first games development officers were being trained and allocated.
“At the end of 1992, Leinster still had a bit of money from the 1991 championship [the year of the famous Dublin-Meath saga] and wanted to invest in the province and we wanted Dublin to take six coaches.
“I phoned them and said we would like them to take half a dozen coaches. Anyway they refused – said they didn’t want them. I was a bit thick because I was a young fella then and had just been appointed to chair the games development committee and wanted to change the world.
“So I said, ‘grand, we won’t, but if the rest of the province pulls ahead of you that’ll be your business. We’ll put them elsewhere.’ Within 15 minutes I got a call back, saying ‘yes, we’d love to’ so they took the first batch.”
“One of them was Vinnie Murphy, who was a great footballer and brilliant at coaching kids.”
A decade or so later government funding became available to develop Gaelic games in the capital.
“I was Leinster chair when Seán Kelly was president. The plan to put a coach into every club in Dublin and get them to pay for half was devised at that time because it was coming out of government funds. It took a long time to bed down and get people to take it seriously, and when the clubs did it began to pay off.
“This is not a new idea. Isn’t it awful that our success with that project has been turned back against us; that increasing the playing numbers is being used as a criticism?”