Football is moving towards a stale monopoly, yet this is largely being ignored

Dublin players celebrate with the cup 20/7/2014
Step by step, as Dublin with their vast and unheralded natural advantages continue to do so much right, they are making the sport boring and redundant for so many others, writes Ewan MacKenna.

Everyone has their own memory of what it once was. But here, it’s from 16 years ago, when Kildare finally walked over the line after a lifetime of crawling aimlessly in Leinster. At the final whistle, the man sitting behind the father lifted him out of his chair by the back of the jersey with such force that the fabric couldn’t handle it. Meanwhile nearby, another pulled a shovel out from beneath him, charged the field and dug up part of the goalmouth into a plastic bag to bring home as a memento.

Each county will tell their own tales, but for future generations the very real fear is that they’ll just hear recollections of such outings but never experience them. We’re not saying every Leinster final was as significant or moving as the above, but what we are saying is that there are no moving ones any more, such is the predictability, and that in itself is hugely significant.

Last Sunday, where once there were pummelling heartbeats and often heartbreak when facing Dublin, there was just the capital having a kickabout. For their first goal against Meath, there weren’t the wild celebrations that used to come with a derby final; instead there was a gentle applause at the presumed. Now it’s a day out for Dublin, not even a day to remember. And for the rest, it’s becoming a day to avoid: why pay to watch your own humiliated? This is just the beginning, though, because if Leinster has slowly been made redundant, the erosion is continuing nationwide.

Let’s be clear, Dublin haven’t done anything wrong, indeed the problem is they’ve done nearly everything too well. But how they’ve done it means they are now Manchester City in the second tier, Wladimir Klitschko at middleweight, dual-Derby winner Australia in a grade three race. All in all, football is moving towards a stale monopoly and it’s being largely ignored.

Of course there are the figures in the east: four in a row and nine out of ten at senior level. But it’s far from a once-in-a-generation coming together of great Dublin players. Already it’s a ruthless conveyor belt, as anyone who knows their football in the capital will tell you there’s better to come as their underage successes and talent show. But mere trophies can do an injustice to the situation, just as a certain rout can be the mistimed start of an argument about unfairness. This is bigger than any one victory or any sole piece of silverware, and needs to be recognised as such.

A look at Dublin’s corporate dealings gives you an insight into the juggernaut they are. In an environment where even larger counties struggle to get a main sponsor at times, the capital, outside of their remarkable five-year, €4 million deal with AIG, have nine other official partners and counting. These range from Toyota providing kit vans and cars, to water suppliers, a health food provider, performance gear provider, a hotel partner, a menswear partner, a nutrition sponsor, and all the while they’ve Aer Lingus as official airline. Obviously that alone doesn’t bring success but it does provide one of the three pillars that makes them too strong.

Outside of so much finance, they’ve the population too. Dublin not only has twice the number of people of Connacht and a greater population than Munster, it also has a greater population than the rest of Leinster and the Gaelic games playing community in the north. In short, Dublin as a province would be the biggest in the country as Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown matches Kildare for numbers while Fingal and South Dublin have populations that only Antrim and Cork are greater than. In this area, there’s a notion they’ve other sports to contend with but, relatively, name a GAA club in any town that doesn’t.

Besides, where once money was pumped into Dublin due to a fear of Leinster rugby taking over swathes of the city, now the fear should be that rugby will take over large swathes of the rest of the province as others turn their backs on a game they can’t compete in, never mind win at.

What completes the triangle for Dublin is testament to their organisation, as they’ve the structures in place too. They’ve put their money and size to good use as well as their ex-players as they’ve a network of facilities and coaches unmatched elsewhere. It’s little wonder that back in 2011 their ‘Blue Wave’ document spoke of dominating the game at all levels, and they are well on the way. Other counties can indeed learn from the best, but they can never be the best because to mimic Dublin means they can only ever follow at a much slower pace, having started way behind.

Be sure to remember this isn’t Kerry or Kilkenny in terms of glory as that’s an argument as easy as it is flawed. Others can do what they’ve done and achieve just as much, but others can never do what Dublin have done. In the past they were flawed behind the scenes, and in the past the sport was different, but as the game becomes more about science than sweat and moves to a higher plane of professionalism, it’ll expose the system more and pronounce Dublin’s advantages more. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy too as the more they win, the more of its vast, young population will become interested in the sport, the more sponsors will want to be associated with a brand nearly as big as the GAA itself and the more they win again. Their dominance will become exponential.

The GAA of course has an obligation to get more and more people to play the game and that includes in Dublin. But there’s a conflict of interest there because they’ve also to rule over their premier competition without bias. They’ve done the former too well to the point that they’re decimated the latter. Give Dublin their due, but all their rights have made this feel very wrong.

26 July, 2014
Sunday Business Post

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