Dublin's population advantage must be addressed by GAA
BAC to the future.
Remember ‘BAC’ in the GAA? Look back at old match programmes and Dublin used to be known as ‘BAC’, the abbreviation for Baile Atha Cliath.
Then they bally well removed the ‘Baile’ element, to make the point that it wasn’t just ‘Dublin city’ but Dublin as an entire county – Ath Cliath.
As far as I can tell, that change occurred in 2006.
The time is overdue for another change, and not just a cosmetic one on the cover of match programmes. There’s no point simply putting lipstick on the wild boar that the All-Ireland SFC in in danger of becoming.
If, as seems highly likely, Dublin win an unprecedented fifth All-Ireland in a row this Sunday it won’t be the end of their domination. Even if Kerry cause a shock, the Dubs will still be favourites to win most of the titles over the next decade.
Two Dublins rather than two tiers
Forget the talk of a two-tiered championship. The real problem, as sensible observers acknowledge, is the Dublin behemoth.
Since a magnificent Mayo team took the Dubs to an All-Ireland Final replay in 2016, Dublin’s average winning margin on the All-Ireland stage has been almost 10 points.
Dublin supporters and/or apologists/flag-wavers hark back to the close battles with Mayo in 2015-17, but those days are gone.
Dublin GAA is getting bigger and better, bigger and bigger, better and better. They’re unbeaten in 35 senior championship matches and have won their last 22 outings.
Dublin, with its population of around 1.4m, is a gigantic sausage factory: feed more and more players into their well-oiled machine, shape them with superb (well-funded) coaching, and – Hey Presto! – sufficient players to win more and more All-Irelands.
Clearly there’s a lot of talent and hard work involved, but it’s a numbers game, economies of scale.
So what’s to be done?
The great divide
Ideally, Dublin should be split into the four ‘counties’ that were established fully a quarter of a century ago, namely Dublin City, Fingal, South Dublin, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.
Those last three would all be in the top 10 of Irish counties by population, with only Antrim, Cork, and Down bigger than Fingal and South Dublin. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown is more populous than Meath.
The obsession with county boundaries within the GAA boggles my mind.
Sure, I understand tradition, but these boundaries were imposed by the British. The British.
Are we really saying that all borders put in place by the British are inviolate, unchangeable?
Previous talk of splitting Dublin in two was rebuffed, partly because the suggested division was to come between north and south, with the river Liffey as the natural divide. The claim was that this would separate the poorer north from the more affluent south.
A more recent suggestion advocated Dublin East and Dublin West.
If carving Dublin up into four parts, along lines that have been in place since 1994, is deemed too much, then it’s time to think outside the box – or at least outside the M50.
Arguably, whatever it’s called, ‘Ath Cliath’ is still only a Dublin city team. Just three players who started the All-Ireland semi-final against Mayo might be part of a ‘Dublin county’ side – Cuala duo Michael Fitzsimons and Con O’Callaghan and Castleknock’s Ciaran Kilkenny.
Even then the latter club might contend that their catchment area lies within the M50, although their clubhouse and pitches don’t. Cuala definitely does, although it’s manor of Dalkey is far removed from inner city Dublin.
My suggestion would be to largely differentiate between inside and outside the M50, but towards its southern end follow the line of the R113 road out towards the coast. That would leave some of the leafier and lovelier suburbs in ‘Dublin County’, including Cuala club.
‘Dublin City’ would still be a far stronger team, but at least ‘Dublin County’ would have the best boss, as Jim Gavin is from the Round Towers club in Clondalkin.
‘Dublin County’ could also call on players from Lucan Sarsfield’s, Skerries Harps (who provided 2011 captain Bryan Cullen), Lusk, St Maur’s (Rush), Swords, Fingal Ravens and Fingallians, St Patrick’s Donabate, and Thomas Davis’, among others.
If I were to be strict, the ‘inside the M50 rule’ would shift the following clubs to ‘Dublin County’ – Clontarf, Raheny, St Vincent’s (Marino), Whitehall Colmcille’s – and Parnell’s (Coolock).
Suddenly the ‘Dublin County’ team looks a lot stronger, with Stephen Cluxton, Jack McCaffrey, Brians Fenton and Howard, and Cormac Costello in its ranks.
However, I’m a reasonable man. Raheny, Clontarf, Coolock, Whitehall, and especially Vincent’s are clearly part of inner city Dublin.
Still, there is an argument that the southern border for ‘Dublin City’ should be much farther north than the M50, perhaps cutting east to the coast above Blackrock, across from the roundabout that leads out west to Tallaght.
That might place Kilmacud Croke’s in ‘Dublin County’ and certainly would do so for Ballinteer, Ballyboden, Cuala, and Naomh Olaf clubs.
As population density and house prices (and rents) continue to increase within Dublin city, surely there’s scope for the GAA to grow in those clubs outside the M50, where land is cheaper, based around ‘dormitory towns’.
It was the GAA’s Strategic Review Committee in 2002 which suggested splitting Dublin in two.
"I'm happy we're talking about change. We shouldn't be afraid of change, irrespective of how it affects individuals.
“Something radical is needed when you're dealing with a county of 1.2 million people. In isolation, the idea of splitting Dublin in two mightn't have any particular value but as part of a whole review programme of development and investment, it might well make sense. There are so many areas in the Dublin region that are not properly serviced."
Who said that? The then Dublin senior football manager, Tommy Lyons.
Peter Quinn, GAA President at that time, declared: "We don't want to over-ride the Dublin county board, but Dublin isn't just a Dublin problem.
“It accounts for 30 per cent of the state's population and 25 per cent of the people living on this island. It can't be considered the preserve of 90 clubs and one county executive. The county may want to vary the proposals but we do want progress in Dublin."
Christy Cooney, then chairman of the Munster Council (and future GAA President), was chair of the sub-committee considering Dublin; he commented: "You must remember that there are 1.4 million people in the region and 2 million or more will be there in 20 years’ time. There's no way one county board is going to manage that.”
The SRC also advocated putting much more money into the city in order to maintain and increase the GAA’s presence there, Quinn confirmed: "We are recommending sizeable investment in terms of finance and personnel. We recognise that Dublin needs special attention, it's a key strategic matter."
The money came. Structural change didn’t.
There are those who argue that all the coaching money pumped into Dublin over the past decade or so has got nothing to do with the Dubs’ recent senior successes. That it’s all down to the great genes of the likes of Dean Rock, Bernard Brogan, James McCarthy, and Ciaran Kilkenny.
For the love of God, or the love of logic, or both if you like, how can anyone simultaneously claim ‘money has nothing to do with it’ but also refuse to stop taking that money? Plenty of other counties and club would love to take it off your hands.
Yes, Dublin clubs co-fund that coaching, but that offer of co-funding is not supported by the GAA beyond a belt of counties around Dublin, whose potential complaints about favouritism towards Dublin have thus been, er, fobbed off. ‘Beyond the Pale’ indeed…
There’s also the factor that there’s probably far more money sloshing around Dublin than in the rest of Ireland, due to well-paid jobs, while the Dubs’ success attracts far great sponsorship – companies obviously want to bathe in reflected glory.
The benefits of coaching
Besides, if we accept the argument that the coaching funding hasn’t helped this Dublin team then the situation actually becomes more worrying for almost every other county.
Imagine how good Dublin would be if all this coaching starts to produce top level players.
There’s been a bizarre development in recent years where some Dublin supporters and pundits almost seem to relish their underage sides NOT winning All-Irelands or even Leinster titles.
Then they can trumpet ‘See?! That coaching money isn’t producing top players’.
In reality, it is. And it’s doing so year upon year, so that there’s an accumulation of talent for the senior selectors to choose from.
There are definitely promising players coming through from ‘Dublin county’ - cousin Ciaran Archer, from St Maur’s (Rush), was the star of the Dublin U20s side which reached the recent All-Ireland final. His team-mates included Karl Lynch Bissett of Naomh Mearnog (Portmarnock), Darren Maher of St Patrick’s, Donabate, Daire Newcombe of Lucan Sarsfield’s, and Cuala’s Peadar O Cofaigh Byrne, who was on the seniors’ bench away to Tyrone.
Change in the GAA
The GAA, for all its traditional reputation, does countenance change.
Galway hurlers are now established as part of the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship, even allowed to host ‘Leinster’ matches in Connacht. In the Sixties, the Tribe’s hurlers played in the Munster SHC.
Antrim have also been involved in the Leinster SHC, and could be again if their fortunes on the field improve.
As for county borders, stronger counties have been split up in hurling’s Celtic Challenge series, allowing for a more level playing field.
The GAA can keep pretending that Dublin’s current success is merely ‘cyclical’ or they can address this serious structural issue facing the Association.
Population trends are only heading in one direction, all towards Dublin.
Dublin’s problems were addressed 15 or so years ago, with that injection of coaching funding – why is the (different) problem of Dublin not addressed now?
The health of the GAA
In 2011, the then GAA Director-General Paraic Duffy wrote the following in ‘The Blue Wave’, the strategy document aiming at further boosting the Association in Dublin
“It is a simple statistical fact that Dublin constitutes, in terms of population catchment area, the single largest county unit in the Association, and is, therefore, a region in which the health of the GAA has a profound impact on the wider health of the Association.”
That works both ways.
Then, even though the Dubs had just ended their All-Ireland SFC drought, the belief was that Dublin still needed help to grow.
Now Dublin is an almost unstoppable giant, overpowering almost all its supposed rivals.
Population, sponsorship and other income, reduced travel times and costs, lack of stadium costs, and home advantage in most matches are all factors in Dublin’s favour. Population is the only one that can really be addressed.
Establishing a ‘Dublin County’ side comprising the districts (or parts thereof) of Blanchardstown, Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown of Fingal Coastal Strip, Lucan/Clondalkin, Swords, and Tallaght would still leave ‘Dublin City’ with a population of more than 600,000 to work with.
Like a massive tree, Dublin has to be cut back - or else everyone else will wither in its shadow.
Dublin’s current senior clubs:
'Dublin City': Ballymun, Clontarf, Erin’s Isle, Na Fianna, Parnell’s, St Brigid’s, St Jude’s, St Oliver Plunkett’s/ER, St Patrick’s Palmerstown, St Vincent’s, Raheny, Templeogue/ Synge Street, Whitehall Colmcille.
‘Dublin County’: Round Towers (Clondalkin), Cuala (Dalkey), Fingal Ravens, Fingallian’s (Swords), Lucan, Lusk, Naomh Mearnog (Portmarnock), St Anne’s (Bohernabreena), St Mary’s (Saggart), St Maur’s (Rush), St Peregrine’s (Blanchardstown), St Sylvester’s (Malahide), Skerries, Thomas Davis’ (Tallaght).
Debatable: Ballinteer, Ballyboden, Castleknock, Kilmacud, St Olaf’s.
Dublin 2011-19 Championship record:
P W D L F A
57 53 2 2 104-1,031 (1,343) 34-653 (795)
Average winning margin: 9.614 points
Unbeaten run: 35 games
Winning streak: 22 games
Dublin’s record since their last SFC defeat:
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Dublin 4-25 Longford 0-10
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 5-18 Kildare 0-14
Leinster SFC Final: Dublin 2-13 Westmeath 0-6
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 2-23 Fermanagh 2-15
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 2-12 Mayo 1-15
All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay: Dublin 3-15 Mayo 1-14
All-Ireland SFC Final: Dublin 0-12 Kerry 0-9
For: 18-118 (172) [average 24.57]
Against: 4-83 (95) [average 13.57]
Average score superiority: 11
All-Ireland margin: 4.5
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Dublin 2-21 Laois 2-10 (Nowlan Park)
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 0-21 Meath 0-11
Leinster SFC Final: Dublin 2-19 Westmeath 0-10
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 1-15 Donegal 1-10
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 0-22 Kerry 2-14
All-Ireland SFC Final: Dublin 2-9 Mayo 0-15
All-Ireland SFC Final replay: Dublin 1-15 Mayo 1-14
For: 8-122 (146) [average 20.86]
Against: 6-84 (102) [average 14.57]
Average score superiority: 6.29
All-Ireland margin: 2
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Dublin 0-19 Carlow 0-7 (Portlaoise)
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 4-29 Westmeath 0-10
Leinster SFC Final: Dublin 2-23 Kildare 1-17
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Dublin 1-19 Monaghan 0-12
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 0-11
All-Ireland SFC Final: Dublin 1-17 Mayo 1-16
For: 10-124 (154) [average 25.67]
Against: 2-73 (79) [average 13.167]
Average score superiority: 12.5
All-Ireland margin: 7.67
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Dublin 4-25 Wicklow 1-11 (Portlaoise)
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 2-25 Longford 0-12
Leinster SFC Final: Dublin 1-25 Laois 0-10
All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, phase 1: Dublin 2-15 Donegal 0-16
All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, phase 2: Dublin 1-14 Tyrone 0-14 (Healy Park)
All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, phase 3: Dublin 4-24 Roscommon 2-16
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 1-24 Galway 2-12
All-Ireland SFC Final: Dublin 2-17 Tyrone 1-14
For: 17-169 (220) [average 27.5]
Against: 6-105 (123) [average 15.375]
Average score superiority: 12.125
All-Ireland margin: 7.4
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Dublin 5-21 Louth 0-10 (Portlaoise)
Leinster SFC semi-final: Dublin 0-26 Kildare 0-11
Leinster SFC Final: Dublin 1-17 Meath 0-4
All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, phase 1: Dublin 5-18 Cork 1-17
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, phase 2: Dublin 2-26 Roscommon 0-14
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final, phase 3: Tyrone 0-13 Dublin 1-16 (Healy Park)
All-Ireland SFC semi-final: Dublin 3-14 Mayo 1-10
All-Ireland SFC Final: Dublin ?? Kerry ??
For: 17-138 (189) [average 27]
Against: 2-79 (85) [average 12.14]
Average score superiority: 14.86
All-Ireland margin: 11.75 (so far)