On an early February weekend in 2010, the Dublin footballers smashed an old hoodoo by beating Kerry, in Killarney, for the first time in 28 years.
Then Kerry manager Jack O’Connor missed the National League opener because of a family bereavement so selector Ger O’Keeffe stood in to speak to the media afterwards.
“They were far fitter,” acknowledged O’Keeffe of the Dubs whom he mischievously suggested had “probably more work done than the President of the GAA might have thought since January”.
Six months after the startled earwigs episode of August, 2009, when Dublin were beaten by Kerry by 17 points at Croke Park, they’d trained like Spartans in early AM winter sessions and squeezed the life out of Kerry with a suffocating new counter-attacking style.
“We were up early in the morning training, something that was unheard of anywhere,” then Dublin captain David Henry would later reflect. “I suppose a lot of people might have been questioning that kind of thing. The culture in the squad really started to change as well.
When we went down playing quite defensively against Kerry, and we saw that it was effective, people gradually started buying into what we were being asked to do.
For a group transitioning from good to great, it was a landmark Sunday afternoon and those players would have a number of equally soldering experiences away from home in subsequent years under Jim Gavin.
Take the away wins over Mayo and Roscommon in 2016, for example, or the dismissals of Tyrone, Kerry, and Monaghan in 2017, or even the draw with Galway in 2018.
All of those battling results far from home were worth much more than just the points on offer.
This is the glass-half-full approach that Dessie Farrell will try to bring into this season’s league, viewing the campaign as a rare opportunity to build precious resilience on the road.
For the first time since 1996, Dublin will play three consecutive games away from home. Two of their three Division 1 south games — the opener against Roscommon and the third match against Galway — are regular away matches but the middle game against Kerry will be played in Thurles as part of Dublin’s punishment for engaging in collective training back in March.
Down, Cork, and Monaghan — similarly dealt with for Covid-19 training breaches — will also have to play all of their group games away from home.
The punishment is most severe on Dublin simply because they’ve become so used to playing the majority of their games at Croke Park. If you take the Jones’ Road ground as being Dublin’s home — and, frankly, who doesn’t anymore? — then over the last 10 seasons they have played 105 of their 145 league and championship games at home.
One of those was at Parnell Park, last October against Meath. The rest, all 104, were at Croke Park. That equates to a staggering 72% of games at home, the highest by far in the country.
In 2013, Dublin played 15 league and championship matches, 13 of which were at Croke Park.
Last year, Farrell’s first as manager, they played eight times at Croke Park.
The Leinster Council has taken the Dubs out of Croke Park for the first round of the championship each season since 2016, a trend that will continue this summer, but the argument that GAA Headquarters isn’t now also Dublin’s mission control is delusional.
In the last 10 seasons they have grown so comfortable with their surroundings that from 48 league games played there, they are a collective 239 points to the good.
That’s a five-point win per game on average, despite playing top Division 1 opposition year in, year out.
In the championship, they are plus-536 points from 57 games played there over the last decade.
To put all of that into context, Kerry have played 127 league and championship games in the same period but just 47 of those have been at home, or 37% compared to Dublin’s 72%.
Across 2019 and 2020, Kerry played nine championship games but just one of those was at home; the Super 8s game against Mayo in Killarney in 2019. Dublin, meanwhile, played 14 championship games in the same period with 11 of those at Croke Park.
As much as it has been held up as a giant advantage for Dublin — who somehow played both ‘home’ and ‘neutral’ games at Croke Park in the Super 8s in 2018 and 2019 — it now leaves them with the biggest challenge of any Division 1 team in the league, to deviate so greatly from what they’re used to with three away games.
And while Farrell will do his best to sell it as a learning experience and a bonding opportunity for his players, he won’t actually be on hand to reinforce the message due to his own suspension.
At the other end of the spectrum with a disastrous home record, in the league at least, is Mayo who host Down in Round 1 of the Division 2 north group in Castlebar.
They have experienced precious few home comforts there lately, losing all of their Division 1 home games in 2018 and 2020, and seven of the last 10.
In fact, despite managing to remain a Division 1 team between 2011 and 2020, Mayo lost 19 of their 35 home league games at MacHale Park and drew two more, winning just 14. That’s a 40% win rate at home compared to Dublin’s 75% in the same period.
Surely the most curious home record, however, is Donegal’s because while Ballybofey — where they’ll play their one home game on May 22, against Monaghan — remains their fortress, going 19 games unbeaten there at one stage throughout the last decade, they can’t buy a win in Letterkenny and have lost their six league games there.
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