Dublin Gaelic Football colossus could just keep on growing
Dublin, looking beyond the remarkable four-in-a-row and odds on for five and seeing the 6 titles in 8 years are the most dominant team that the game has seen since Kerry in the late seventies and early eighties, a full 35 plus years ago. The conversation understandably turns to trying to understand this phenomenon. Money and population versus talent and management, the truth as always is likely somewhere in between and a bit more besides.
In a sport where you play where you are from there is obvious advantage to having a bigger population. Somewhere someone may be able to produce a figure for the number of players in a county until you happen to come across a Conor McManus, a Michael Murphy, a Jack McCaffrey. It’ll never be set in stone but certainly one can imagine that a certain (very small) percentage of players have county level in them and then a certain (again very small) percentage are at a standout level within this in terms of either their skill, personality and athleticism. What if, rather than been a special generation, Dublin have the population to turn out 15 or 20 players like this regularly?
The current estimates for population growth in the south suggest that in little over 10 years, Dublin will account for 65 per cent of the country’s population. A stunning, bordering-on-unbelievable, nugget that I heard recently was that Ballyboden, one of Dublins ‘super clubs’, have the same number of U14s as Leitrim. I don’t know how factual this is but given that the club website states that over 1,000 kids attended the clubs' SIX-week summer camp over the summer it certainly is plausible. This is one, albeit, big club. I think Dublin will weaken slightly over the next several years but the big fear is that the generation inspired by the current success is only getting going now. The avalanche is still to come.
Dublin players, past and present, as they often do, all stuck to a familiar hymn sheet this week, decrying the lack of respect shown to the current team’s achievements by those vulgar enough to point to the rivers of cash flowing into Dublin GAA. They pointed out how hard this team works and that no amount of money changes the fact that it is 15 against 15 on the pitch. True, but somehow a tad disrespectful in its own right for the hard work every other team out there is putting in. Absolutely, Dublin have put in the work but to somehow think this absolves the link with their success and money is embarrassing. Maybe they don’t want to admit it but when you get almost the same amount of money as the rest of the country combined there is an issue. When every other sport in the world demonstrates a clear correlation between money and success you have a complete competitive unfairness.
This Dublin group is uniquely talented and not just as footballers but their own personalities as well. On numerous occasions I have seen where individual Dublin players or the team as a whole, show a calmness under pressure or relentlessness or a defining moment of skill that blows me away. I think particularly of league games where they are under the cosh and where it is purely what is inside these remarkable players that makes it happen. The fact that they have come across a whole group of players with similar traits is to me the primary reason for the 4-in-row. These are still the characteristics and currency, not euros, in buying the big wins in Croke Park. To deny these admirable traits and point to the money or population is every bit as ignorant as the opposite arguments.
How would you start trying to pick a Dublin panel when you have 12 football divisions to look over? When you select your panel, how do you keep them all happy, all committed, all progressing? How do you maintain discipline and focus in the media and corporate goldfish bowl that is Dublin Nothing comes out of the Dublin camp, the players always present publicly and perform on the pitch as the epitome of professional athletes. A certain degree of this is again down to the players themselves but a huge amount has to be credited to the culture initiated under Pat Gilroy and developed under Jim Gavin.
On the football side, Gavin's achievements are even more impressive. For me the ultimate sign of a successful manager is when their side exudes the appearance that they could manage themselves. When their pattern of play, decision making, skill levels, tactical awareness, resilience and adaptability appear effortless. These things do not happen by chance. For me the quiet military man finger prints are all over it and his team’s achievements are very much his, not that you would ever know it.
This factor is often laughed off but it is still there. Think of the one point wins and drawn games this past few years. It’s stating the obvious that any reversal in those and the 5-in-a-row talk would be dead in the water. We all know the superior results at home and the difficulty achieving results away and this is no different at county level. The knowledge of the pitch, shooting distances and angles are a huge factor on any home ground. Add to that the fact Croke park plays differently than any other pitch in the country further enhances the benefit. Whilst for Dublin, it isn’t always a game of small margins, it’s bound to be nice to know that even when it is, home comforts act as just another factor to weigh in on Dublin’s behalf on already overloaded scales in their favour.
Bottom line at present there is not team out there that can match Dublin, even closely, regarding the depth and quality of player. That means all other teams start as outsiders needing everything to go their way in terms of form, referee decisions, injuries to be in with a chance. Gaelic needs the other counties out there to push their current panels to extreme levels just to keep pace with the boys in blue. It seldom ends well for pacesetters in big races and similarly for county teams taking on Dublin.
The big question is does the money and population combine to mean that the special type of player Dublin have at present are continually available. Only time will tell. Every other great team in the past, that has come across similarly special groups have faded away as their irreplaceable nature becomes clear. If Dublin don’t follow this trend then only splitting the county, something that at this stage belongs in the crazy talk section, actually becomes not a possibility but a necessity as at that stage, turning off the money taps, which amazingly continue to flow, will be far too little too late.