GAA Football

Kenny Archer: Dubs are special - but largely because of the numbers game

Dublin have brilliant players and are superbly coached - but money and population ARE also major factors in their success.

I ONCE started one of my speeches as a ‘best man’ (still for hire, reasonable rates) as follows: ‘Ladies, gentlemen…[comic pause]…and Dubs’.

How the guests laughed. Apart from most of the Dubs present (it was a mixed marriage), some of whom threw things at me.

Well, I’m going to insult the Dubs again.

You might need to be English to understand the depth of this dig, but ‘Dubliners are the Yorkshiremen of Ireland’.

Dublin fully deserved to win their fourth consecutive senior football All-Ireland, but the words that have been said and written by certain Dubs since then have made my blood boil.

The general message has been that there’s some special, innate ‘Dubness’ that makes them superior to the rest of us.

It started with Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton in his acceptance speech. With no sense of irony at all, after around half an hour listing all Dublin’s sponsors and the county board, he declared:

“Regardless of what people say about money or population, you put these teams out and we really, really go as hard as we can!”

That reminded me of the tale told about Liverpool’s legendary boss Bill Shankly and right-back Chris Lawler, who was so taciturn he was known by his team-mates as ‘the Silent Knight’.

During a training five-a-side game, Lawler was asked to adjudicate on whether or not Shankly’s side had scored a legitimate goal.

When Lawler apparently shook his head and said: "Sorry, boss, it didn't go in", Shanks responded: "Jesus Christ, Chris, you haven't uttered a word in five years and when you do you tell a lie."

For the benefit of any libel lawyers reading this, Cluxton wasn’t lying – but it’s utter nonsense to imply that money and population haven’t played a big part in Dublin’s recent successes.

Other Dublin flag-wavers, notably recent past players, came out with patronising talk of how hard Dublin trained, how committed they were, as if that doesn’t apply to Tyrone, Galway, Monaghan, Kerry, etc, etc.

‘Money doesn’t kick points and score goals’, we’re told.

If the money doesn’t matter, or doesn’t help, why take it and use it?

Quick quiz time (although, unlike Dublin, there’ll be no money handed out):

Which Irish county has the largest population?

Easy. Dublin (1,345,000 from the 2016 census figures).

The next three?

Antrim (618,000), Cork (542,000), and Down (532,000).

Fifth and sixth?

No. Not Galway (256,000), nor Derry (247,000), nor Kildare (222,000).

OK, OK, Galway and Derry are the correct answers if we’re talking about the ‘traditional’ counties.

But in official terms, the answers are: fifth, Fingal (aka north county Dublin) with 296,000, and South Dublin (279,000) – with Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (217,000) in 10th place. That leaves Dublin city with a population of around 553,000 in the 2016 census.

It’s almost a quarter of a century since Dublin was officially split into those four parts for administrative purposes.

Yet, for GAA purposes, historic county Dublin remains as one, indivisible - and accounts for one-fifth of the total population on the island, a proportion that is only going to increase.

Of course, the total population isn’t the actual ‘GAA population’, but that first figure is a fairly good guide.

Dublin has the greatest playing numbers, honed by excellent and centrally-funded coaching for around 15 years now.

‘Sure what have Antrim and Cork achieved with their populations?,’ some ask.

Well, neither of those counties have had millions upon millions poured into them to pay for top class GAA coaching – which is what has helped Dublin to dominate.

Sure, you can only field 15 players, and use six subs out of 11, but depth of numbers logically leads to a greater likelihood of top talent coming through (as with Yorkshire County Cricket when residency was a factor in players’ eligibility).

Why are the Dublin forwards so good? Partly because they have Cormac Costello, Kevin McManamon, Paul Flynn, Bernard Brogan, Colm Basquel, Paddy Andrews, and Eoghan O’Gara pushing them for places – any six of those seven could make up most other counties’ starting attacks.

‘Why are we only hearing these complaints now?’

Perhaps because you’ve had your head in the sand for the past five years? Or somewhere else? Or your snout in the trough?

Or because when people, including myself, warned years ago about the imminent Dublin dominance, you simply covered your ears and danced around singing ‘Molly Malone’ and ‘The Boys are Back in Town’?

‘Success is cyclical.’ Don’t make me sick.                                                             

Some point to soccer and say ‘Manchester United looked unstoppable’ – and they would have been, except for the money pumped into Chelsea and then Manchester City.

And, to be fair, Dublin GAA has been far better run and managed than the Old Trafford outfit over the past few years.

Of course there are always going to be bigger and smaller counties – but Dublin has become a behemoth, a beast crushing everyone else in its path, under its weight of numbers – in terms of both money and population.

The current population of county Dublin is around 1.35 million.

That’s 7.5 times that of Tyrone.

More than twice Antrim’s.

Two-and-a-half times Cork.

Nearly seven times Meath.

Nine times Kerry.

10 times Mayo.

22 times Monaghan.

Why does the GAA insist on county borders which were imposed by the English?

Are any Irish people seriously saying ‘You can’t change a border!’?

Playing rules have changed over the years, and will continue to be changed, but borders can’t?

Perhaps we should go back to ‘one goal trumps any number of points’? It might make football more entertaining.

The arguments against splitting Dublin in two are as convincing as Brexiteers telling us of the great future awaiting the UK.

The Liffey is a natural divide. I certainly recall a chucklesome skit pitting north Dubs against south Dubs – for the benefit of sponsors, obviously.

Of course, the ‘One Dubliners’ are right: Dublin shouldn’t be halved.

Obviously it should be split into at least four sections, as was done for administrative purposes from the start of 1994, due to Dublin’s growing population – and that trend has only increased.

It’s understandable that Dubs are enjoying their recent successes – but what sense of pride of place will there be in years more of being the biggest boy in the schoolyard tramping over tiny opponents?

* The population figure for county Dublin was mistakenly incorrect in the original version of this column; that has been corrected, along with the ratios compared to certain other counties, and Dublin's proportion of the overall population.

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