The empire strikes back: Dublin GAA chief takes capital critics to task

Dublin GAA chief executive John Costello may be one of the few remaining pulpit-pounding county secretaries who believe annual reports can still have a state-of-the-nation edge to them. An opportunity to set the record straight, to right a few wrongs, to take down a sacred cow or two. 

The empire strikes back: Dublin GAA chief takes capital critics to task

Dublin football’s inexorable rise to an exclusive plateau has unquestionably made them the envy of 31 other GAA counties and a media industry in the capital that feels short-changed by an absence of genuine engagement.

But some of the potshots at Dublin this year were ‘puerile’, Costello writes in his 6,000 word-long annual report to be presented to Monday’s capital convention. And such issues and inaccuracies can’t go unchallenged.

“Some of the commentary around Dublin’s perceived ‘advantages’ — such as population and finance — is both repetitive and often, quite frankly, misinformed,” he said. “Myth 1: Our senior teams have meals delivered to their homes on a daily basis. Untrue. Myth 2: Our senior teams are given five-star, ‘all-expenses-paid’ treatment. Untrue.”

Costello uses an example to expose such ‘myths’: “The hard yards every year are done in Innisfails GAA club in late winter/spring before they move to St Clare’s, DCU for Championship preparation. Last year, two training sessions were cut short owing to floodlight failure at Innisfails. On investigation, it turned out this was caused by a player, who had to return to the dressing rooms following an injury on the pitch, who turned on a heater which cut short the circuit! Nothing five-star about that!”

Costello adds: “The battle for young hearts and minds is ongoing — and tougher than ever. My belief is that it is tougher in Dublin than in any other county in Ireland. In rural areas, the local GAA club is often the very heartbeat of the parish. Playing underage for the local club is often a rite of passage for young people. This is less so in the larger suburban areas of Dublin. But through the wonderful work of our clubs and schools, we can reach as many young Dublin children as possible and introduce them to what will hopefully be a lifelong love of our national games. But we are not in a situation where we are turning thousands of children away from the gates of our clubs every day.”

On the specifics of Dublin’s All-Ireland football success in September and the reaction to it in some quarters, the Dublin CEO reloaded.

“Dublin teams, especially senior football ones, are well used to the cut and thrust of media analysis and scrutiny, successful ones even more so! It was there in the 1970s, there was a tsunami of vitriol after the 12 men of Dublin defeated Galway in 1983, and the current panel and management seem to be ‘fair game’ now in some eyes.

“A quick spin through this type of ‘commentary’ (after) this year’s decider against Mayo goes something like this — full-time whistle sounds, Stephen Cluxton lifts Sam — split Dublin in two, actually make that four; these conceited Dubs might be liked by some but they’ll never be loved. Those unpatriotic Dubs should be forced to surrender the GPO! Some of the ‘rhetoric’ was in fact so puerile it was like a collaboration between Roger Hargreaves, the author of the Mr Men series of books, and the writers of that timeless classic, The Magic Roundabout!

Jim Gavin is congratulated by John Costello, chief executive of Dublin County Board after the All-Ireland final win. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Jim Gavin is congratulated by John Costello, chief executive of Dublin County Board after the All-Ireland final win. Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

“There used to be a perennial column written in some publication about the dangers of the ‘Cult of the Manager’ - maybe some commentators should examine the ‘Cult of Me’ which seems very much in vogue with some of them. Have a go at the Dubs, then sit back, get invited as a paid guest onto various radio shows etc — kerching, cha-ching, cha-ching, kerching!”

Continued Costello: “We’ve been down the road before with regard to the splitting of Dublin and I don’t wish to copy and paste old convention reports here. Suffice to say that sense of place and identity is one of the core principles of Gaelic games. Dublin is a united county. However, this theme was given a fresh lick of paint this summer when it was implied that Dublin GAA was ‘short-changing’ young players in the capital and that it would be in the greater good if Dublin were split, for their own sake, if you wish.

“I presume that was an attempt at engineering dissent and not really a genuine, heartfelt plea for the ‘boys on the hill’ to be thrown a Dublin jersey?

“Maybe, if the powers that be and all other counties were in agreement, Dublin could enter a senior development squad in Division 4 of the league? Yes, didn’t think so!.

“Our senior football manager, Jim Gavin, was the target on several occasions during the summer of plenty of hostility — one paper declaring mid-summer that Jim “was losing it” and that it was time for Jim to be moved on as “Dublin now need a true leader”. Jim’s ‘crime’ was standing up for one of his players, Diarmuid Connolly (who knows he crossed the line against Carlow) in the face so much rage and counter-rage.

“Then, after the All-Ireland final, Jim was again held up to much ridicule and inaccurate reporting. The atmospheres in the rivals’ dressing rooms after an All-Ireland final could not be any more polar. One utter delirium, the other utter dejection. As Jim, rightly, does not see his first priority as Dublin manager to provide a ‘Turn Down’ service for the media, he was accused of effectively being very hostile and that his delay in getting to the media area was provocative. Perhaps we’ll have to get Jim to wear a GPS tracker in future, to give up to the second information on his location.

“The truth of the matter is different though. After celebrating and congratulating his players, management and backroom staff, the squad and members of management made time for pictures with a young Derry supporter with special needs. This young lad and his family had requested that he could spend some time with the Dublin players and management after the game and the team and management gladly obliged.

“In response to (unnnamed pundit) ‘Mr Flip-Flop’ — neither his real name nor a real Mr Men character — obviously these Dublin players will never be loved the length and breadth of the country, but they are liked, admired, and respected by plenty outside the county. In fact, in terms of within the county, I don’t think, in my lifetime association with Dublin, that I have ever witnessed as strong a connection between our supporters and the current team and vice versa.

“And finally, you will be glad to read that suggestions that Dublin players had ‘snubbed’ the International Rules were totally untrue. Any player who was asked out for trials with the Irish team could not commit fully for the entire term owing to club commitments, or injury, or work. Despite Jack McCaffrey highlighting this for one commentator, in plenty of time before publication, it was still dressed up as a ‘Dubs snub’ story with, what read as some half-hearted disclaimer, stuck in.”

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