You gotta love this time of year. Summer’s a comin’ and dreams of long and languid days sprinkled with shimmering heatwaves have yet to be washed away by the misery of another rained-out season and the same dispiriting fate has yet to befall the giddy ambitions of provincial or All-Ireland glory for all but a handful of counties.
Leinster is front and centre as the ball gets rolling this weekend – all due respect to events in Gaelic Park, New York a fortnight ago – with Offaly welcoming Longford to Tullamore, Carlow’s Netwatch Cullen Park the venue for the Barrowsiders’ get-to with the lads from across the border in Laois and Drogheda the location for the meeting of Louth and Westmeath.
Not that they will ultimately amount to much in the greater scheme of things.
Yet again, the biggest of the four provincial championships will kick off shrouded by a haunting sense of inevitability caused by Dublin’s abundance of class, resources and know-how. It is that gulf which has occasioned many to dismiss the recent revisiting of the debate over whether Jim Gavin’s men should or should not be allowed take up residence in Croke Park for the duration.
Saying Dublin would win regardless of the venue, which they most likely would, is completely missing the point.
The fact is; having the Dubs travel to the provinces is more important now than ever, for the simple reason that they are so far ahead.
Football in Leinster needs every shot in the arm it can get and the arrival to Portlaoise or Tullamore of the Dubs and their travelling circus would inject an enormous, if unquantifiable, amount of enthusiasm and hype into the local scenes.
Parents are less likely to pack the kids into the car or onto the train to see their lot mauled in Croke Park, but the presence of a big game ‘just down the road’ would inevitably attract a greater footfall from the regions and hand back a small sense of ownership when it comes to a subsiding provincial championship and the vast swathes of the region that currently feel disenfranchised.
The argument is well worn at this stage, but the numbers continue to grow. It is now 44 games and counting since Dublin played a championship game outside of Croke Park, Of the current squad, only Stephen Cluxton and Alan Brogan have spent a summer Sunday playing ball beyond Dublin 3. It’s a plainly ludicrous situation, but you can hardly blame the Dubs.
It is those Leinster Council delegates who, year after year, go along with this conspiracy of silence who should hang their heads in shame.
They are doing their counties, the Leinster Championship and, let’s be clear about it, Dublin and their supporters a disservice. They hamstring their own players and coaches at a time when they and the game in their backyard need every helping hand they can get.
The same goes for those players who, in countless interviews in the past ten years or so, have fobbed off the question about the Dubs and Croke Park with the pat reply that ‘every player wants to play games there’. There is an obvious element of groupthink here, a fear to raise one’s head above the parapet and be seen as a whinger, but leadership is inherent in sport and it is clearly lacking here.
This column raised this very same question almost three years ago and made what we thought at the time to be pertinent and irrefutable points, one of them being that Bernard Brogan had, to that point, played 20 championship matches for Dublin and not one of them had come outside the confines of HQ. He still hasn’t, of course.
The reaction was astounding. Friends, colleagues and other readers – even those from the counties with most to gain by a change to the status quo – accepted the reasoning behind the need to alter the current state of affairs, before arguing that the money forthcoming from the current arrangements made for an unassailable trump card in any negotiations.
Shame on them, too. The GAA has, unfairly, been labelled the Grab All Association for donkey’s years, mostly by those ignorant or disinterested in the fact that the vast majority of the funds accrued are poured back into the development of the games and the thousands of people that play and support them. Here, though, is an example of a betrothal to money that is unforgiveable.
It is short-sighted and downright counter-productive, not to mention debatable as to how much more revenue a Leinster quarter-final with 30,000 or 40,000 people would actually generate.
By supporting it, we are corrupting the inalienable right of players, teams and supporters to be presented with a dice that isn’t loaded, but as things stand the other eleven Leinster counties are reaping exactly what they have sowed.
None of them deserve to win another provincial title, and shouldn’t expect to stand up to the Dubs on the field of play, until they show the cojones absent for so long in the boardrooms where these decisions are made. Two words sum the whole thing up quite neatly, in fact. Turkeys and Christmas.