Move Leinster out of Croke - and change provincials: Dublin’s Paul Mannion

Dublin footballer Paul Mannion with Croke Park in the background.
Dublin footballer Paul Mannion feels Leinster Football Finals could be moved away from Croke Park. ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan/©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

DUBLIN may be heading to a training camp in Portugal this week for the second successive year but Paul Mannion certainly does not believe in always doing things the same way.

Besides calling for further change to the All-Ireland Championship format, the Dubs forward is happy to countenance more matches away from Croke Park.

GAA HQ was just over a quarter full for Sunday’s Leinster SFC Final victory over Louth, with around 23,000 spectators, and Mannion agreed that the provincial final could be taken elsewhere:

“I’d love that. I think just from a players’ point of view you want to play in grounds that are packed and have a good atmosphere. I’d love to play even some games in Parnell Park, like some of our home league games and stuff like that. I’d love to play in Parnell.

“Some championship games they are probably missing a trick and overlooking the kind of atmosphere and excitement that you can build in smaller grounds.

“But then they are also probably thinking that we have this magnificent stadium that could be just not used for large parts of the year if that’s the case, so I can understand the dilemma.

“I think if you do mix it up and take some games out of Croke Park and build an atmosphere there, it gives more of a novelty then to Croke Park for players and fans and you’d probably see attendances go up then because it’s used less frequently and it’s more novel, I suppose.”

His calls for change to the championship format include either moving the provincial series earlier in the year or running them alongside the All-Ireland games.

The Donegal players celebrate after Sunday's dramatic Ulster final victory over Armagh. Picture by Philip Walsh
The Donegal players celebrate after Sunday's dramatic Ulster final victory over Armagh. Picture by Philip Walsh

The 30-year-old accepts that there will remain opposition to such alterations in Ulster, especially after yet another dramatic decider, won on penalties for the second year running on Sunday:

“That’s obviously another factor that complicates it, that is a competitive competition and they are obviously very passionate about it, so what do you do with that?

“There’s no easy option here, that’s the position the GAA is in, they have to make hard decisions. Whichever way you go, you are going to piss some people off, I suppose.

“But I think there are in the kind of position now where there are some really big decisions to make and they need to think what can we do for the benefit of the game overall, for the betterment of all fans, all players, and not just take the easy option because it’s the simple thing to do.”

This season retains the round robin format in the group stages which began last year, but Mannion can see a simple improvement to that:

“Even in its current format, if it was just the top two from each group [progressing], I think that would make a lot more sense. I don’t know where the idea for the third team qualifying came from….

“I think it is unique, you don’t see it in other sports; three teams qualifying from a group of four, it seems odd, and it will probably lead to some games somewhere where it feels like there is not a whole lot on the line.

“Now, last year in the group stage that was not really the case, it still did deliver really big games, but a short-term tweak would be adjusting that.”

In an ideal scenario, the Kilmacud Croke’s attacker believes what the GAA needs is even closer linkage between League and Championship:

“I would build a championship purely around the league standings and less around where you finish in your provincial championships.

“I think that would help make sure that it’s a really competitive championship and also provide the possibility for teams to advance and progress from their leagues to get into the Sam Maguire.

“I think the bigger question is: how do we fit in the provincial championships now alongside a really competitive exciting All-Ireland?”

# Paul Mannion was speaking at the launch of SuperValu’s sponsorship of the GAA All-Ireland Senior Football Championship and this year’s #CommunityIncludesEveryone campaign which continues to encourage GAA communities across Ireland to do what they can to make their clubs and counties more diverse and inclusive.