It’s Carlow - the town, the county and its people - who will suffer because of the Leinster Council’s scattergun approach, writes Brendan O’Brien.
Some emails you never expect to open. Take, for example, the missive with details of a press night for the Carlow footballers sent this week to every sports journalist in the country with a passing interest in GAA.
“After this night, Carlow GAA respectfully requests no more media activity take place prior to the Leinster SFC quarter-final on Saturday. June 3,” it ended.
Carlow asking the media to back off: fair to say none of us saw that one coming but happy to oblige. The county’s surprise defeat of Wexford in the provincial preliminary round has already provided the championship with a damn good storyline and it’s turned the spotlight on a corner of the country that has known days like the one to come against the Dubs all too rarely.
That’s why the venue for the game is so damn irritating.
Such are the mysterious ways in which the GAA moves many of us find ourselves berating the choice of O’Moore Park when it was the decision by the Leinster Council to deprive that same ground of the right to host Dublin this time last year that had Laois, and many, many neutrals, up in arms.
None of this skewed thinking is new, unfortunately. It’s 25 years since Dublin last played a senior football championship match in Portlaoise and so much of the build-up to that Leinster quarter-final against Wexford - quieter though it was in days when the sports media was infinitely smaller and social media was a pint or two after the paper went to print — strikes as familiar.
Wexford were due home advantage that day too and they wanted it played in Wexford Park. A county board meeting decided unanimously they would fight for that right and they offered to make it an all-ticket affair. The Leinster Council decided otherwise, citing fears the ground wouldn’t be able to cater for the surge from the capital.
All of this ring a bell? Dublin had played in Wexford in 1985 in front of a crowd estimated at up to 20,000 but a capacity of 13,500 had been set on the venue by a safety committee seven years later. So off to the midlands everyone schlepped for a game a Dublin team boasting the likes of John O’Leary, Keith Barr and Charlie Redmond won by 10 points.
The estimated attendance? About 14,000.
Maybe that had something to do with the fact when the counties were drawn against each other in the following year’s preliminary round they actually got to do it at Wexford Park.
Dublin won, as they had the year before and back in 1985, on a day when the region lived up to the title of sunny southeast.
The game itself was a low-scoring non-event with the visitors running out four-point winners.
More newsworthy was the commotion on the Rosslare-Dublin train later that evening when an estimated three-dozen or so boozy fans on their way back to the capital were reported to have caused havoc. Two were arrested at Enniscorthy.
By then, the emergency cord had been pulled a few times with the inevitable delays, beer cans had been thrown and corridors supposedly used as urinals by fans who made life a misery for fellow passengers including - you couldn’t make this up - a troop of cub scouts.
An Iarnrod Eireann spokesperson said the company hadn’t seen anything like it since the 1970s.
A much more regular sight was the chaos that followed the Dubs on the roads.
Traffic backed up 60 kilometres as far as Arklow that day, the Dublin team bus that made for Portlaoise in 1992 had been caught in a minor traffic accident and many a game they played down the country in summertime had to be delayed to allow the hordes navigate the tiny tributaries of provincial towns.
None of which ultimately mattered. Or stopped Dublin from bringing their show across Leinster year after year. In the 10 seasons spanning 1987 and 1996 the county played 30 Leinster Championship matches. Seventeen of them passed off in Croke Park, the other 13 were sprinkled liberally around the province.
Drogheda, Newbridge, Tullamore, Portlaoise, Wexford, Navan, Carlow and Mullingar all got to experience the arrival in town of the Dubs. Two trips beyond The Pale per summer was the norm rather than the exception, so much so that they played more provincial ties in Navan between 1995 and 1996 than they did at HQ.
There was little in terms of rhyme or reason to the routes detailed for them. They played Wexford in Wexford and Portlaoise, Louth in Navan and Drogheda. Westmeath were accounted for at Páirc Tailteann and Longford in Mullingar. Meetings with Meath were reserved for Jones’ Road so the decisions on locations have often been on the quirky side of arbitrary. It’s Carlow - the town, the county and its people - who will suffer because of that scattergun approach this time.
And more’s the pity.
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