GAA Football

Dublin should upgrade Parnell Park for a level playing field in Super 8s

Tyrone's Ryan Mellon is put under pressure by Dublin duo Dermot Connolly and Paul Casey in the league meeting in Omagh in 2010.
Pic Seamus Loughran

THERE'S a certain irony that Dublin's last League game before they made Croke Park their home took place in Omagh.

That's more than eight years ago, back in April 2010. Dublin defeated Tyrone and relegated Mickey Harte's men.

Albeit that the fuss over Dublin-Donegal being in headquarters was misdirected – Dublin-Roscommon being there on August 5 is the real issue – it's still been hilarious to read so many Dubs on social media brazenly insisting that 'Parnell Park is our home'.

If it really is, then why are you so rarely there?! Why haven't your footballers played even a League game there since hosting (and losing to) Galway on March 27, 2010?

The sheer chutzpah of Dublin GAA calling their season ticket the 'Parnell Pass' when most people undoubtedly buy it to gain entrance to Croke Park is quite breathtaking.

The Dubs travel back to Healy Park this weekend for the second phase of the All-Ireland quarter-finals – OK, OK, the 'Super Eights' – and will be favoured to beat the Red Hands again.

Saturday represents a very rare trip away from Croke for the Dubs in the Championship, only their second ever to Ulster.

Mostly that’s due to Dublin’s recent dominance of Leinster; once any county has won its province in this millennium their subsequent games have obviously been at Croke Park (All-Ireland quarter-finals, semi-finals, and finals), so there’s no special treatment for the Dubs there.

There is an element of coincidence too that Dublin setting up home at Croke has, er, coincided with their dominance this decade, winning five senior All-Irelands and five National League Division One titles.

They were a coming force in 2010, impressively defeating Tyrone in that year's quarter-final, before losing out by a point in the semi-final to eventual champions Cork.

They'd also been knocked out by the ultimate winners in six of the previous eight seasons, lost in the 2006 semi-finals, and to beaten finalists Armagh in 2003, so they were often in contention.

Yet at times I have to check the name of the river that runs through Dublin because so many Dublin supporters seem to live in a state of denial about the influence that finances have had on their recent successes.

There's no doubt that Dublin are a brilliant team with brilliant players and a brilliant manager who play very good football, even if they're not as completely un-cynical as some of their cheerleaders claim.

That's largely because Dublin have invested huge amounts of time and effort into coaching - and huge amounts of money too.

Because they have been able to.

Had Dublin been required to spend more of that money on re-developing Parnell Park then obviously they would have spent less on coaching.

That might have made the difference between winning and losing All-Irelands: four of Dublin's triumphs have been by one-point margins, two of them in replays.

Long before this decade I wrote repeatedly about how I was tired of people proclaiming that Dublin winning the Sam Maguire would be 'good for the GAA'.

I'll never forget the sheer delight on the faces of some GAA officials, who were not from Dublin themselves, when Pat Gilroy's men won in 2011.

This wasn't a county winning its first All-Ireland, like Armagh or Tyrone in the Noughties, or Donegal or Derry in the Nineties.

It wasn't even the ending of a long 'famine', although it did bring back to mind the great Art McRory's comment after the Dubs' controversial victory over his Tyrone team in the 1995 decider: 'I knew Dublin needed an All-Ireland, I just didn't know they needed it so badly.'

Dublin's desire to win Sam is understandable; the GAA's desire for them to do so less so, except that it seems mostly motivated by money.

At least the GAA is consistent in wanting games held in the biggest stadia available to maximise income.

And Dublin's massive support has helped pay not only for improvements to Croke Park but to many other GAA grounds.

That's why I had little sympathy with the recent 'Newbridge or nowhere' campaign when Kildare were drawn to host Mayo.

Just as the Kildare County Board spent loads of money on its football team this decade rather than improving St Conleth's Park – worse still, money it didn't actually have – so Dublin has spent money on its team and, yes, coaching more talent, rather than increasing the capacity of Parnell Park.

Indeed it's really rather shameful that Dublin's so-called home can only hold 13,500 spectators.

If Wikipedia is to be believed – and that's doubtful, as it still says Parnell Park is 'the home of the Dublin GAA…football…teams at all levels of competition' then guess how many county grounds can hold more spectators than the Donnycarney venue?


How is that possible?

Of those with lower capacities, only Kildare have no excuse either, although at least they have plans to expand Newbridge.

The others are counties with fairly small populations and/ or little history of footballing success, namely Leitrim, Louth, Longford, Wicklow, and Westmeath.

Sure, the GAA has to spend more money to attract and retain youngsters in cities.

But perhaps Cork football wouldn't be in the sorry state it currently is if the Rebels had been able to spend more of their money on coaching rather than going towards the very costly renovation of Pairc Ui Chaoimh.

Antrim football will probably remain in the doldrums while Casement Park remains over-grown and unused.

In the meantime, the Saffrons have to hold out a begging bowl for a fraction of the coaching funding that has gone, and continues to go, to Dublin.

With Dublin able to rent Croke Park rather than spend a lot on re-developing Parnell, it's similar to the huge helping hand given to another set of light blues, Manchester City, who only had to pay £20m to get the City of Manchester Stadium.

In contrast, Arsenal funded the expensive building of their Emirates Stadium themselves in their country's capital – at the expense of improving their team sufficiently to truly compete for the top trophies.

Kenny Dalglish in his first spell as Liverpool manager, said: "The people who come to watch us play, who love the team and regard it as part of their lives, would never appreciate Liverpool having a huge balance in the bank. They want every asset we possess to be wearing a red shirt."

In a sense, Dublin's assets are all in blue shirts.

Dublin haven't had to worry about their bank balance, about balancing the cost of building a successful side AND building a better stadium.

Never mind bank balances, where is the competitive balance?

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