“I honestly believe Croke Park must be worth an eight-point advantage to Dublin,” writes John Fogarty

Pre-match hyperbole or reality, Kevin Walsh’s comment warrants consideration. He never expanded on the comment but he wouldn’t be the first manager to mention the factor. If it was a roundabout way of looking for a leveller, what might it be?

Were it an attempt to dampen expectations, he need not have worried. Although Galway is the unbeaten team, table-toppers and seek to expand their league run without a defeat to 12 games, Dublin would be fancied in Croke Park or anywhere.

But if he truly feels his team virtually have to outscore the All-Ireland champions by nine points, as by extension of his argument Kerry did 12 months ago, then it’s quite the challenge he envisages on Sunday.

But does the shadow of Dublin really grow larger in Croke Park? The answer is more nuanced than expected. Here’s why:

Hill 16 la, la la

How big is Dublin’s Croker shadow?

Back in 2016, Mayo fans felt it was so important to break up the blue hue of the famed terrace that they were choosing to stand rather than sit for the drawn All-Ireland final. Dublin fans groups claimed before the replay that they had been outnumbered. That descending wave of blue is quite the sight, intimidatory for the opposition, particularly for free-takers and sometimes referees, as it is motivational for Dublin.

No other team in inter-county Gaelic games has as vocal or as concentrated a collection of supporters. However, like Liverpool captains with the Kop, Stephen Cluxton, when he has won the toss, has traditionally opted to play into Hill 16 in the second half.

Psychologically, it has been regarded as more of a spur and a study we conducted approximately 10 years ago emphasised the strength of that theory.

However, in recent years, Dublin’s reliability on it has lessened. In the 2013 final, they beat Mayo facing it in the second half as they did in last year’s final.

They also lost last year’s league final facing the Hill after half-time.

At home

Dublin haven’t been in a Croke Park dressing room other than the one closer to the Hill 16 side underneath the Hogan Stand in a hell of a long team. For home league matches there, they would have choice of preparation area but it’s said that they are assigned that dressing room on an alphabetical basis. That policy would be undermined by some situations in the past but the fact is it’s a cosy abode for them.

Happy (away) days

How big is Dublin’s Croker shadow?

It might be the venue most familiar to them and it might be where they have been most successful but Croke Park is also where Dublin have lost their last two season matches — Monaghan last Sunday and Kerry last April.

Almost a third (10) of the county’s 36-game unbeaten run was achieved away from GAA HQ — seven wins and three draws. The last time they lost outside of Croke Park was 37 months ago against Kerry in Killarney.

Routine

How big is Dublin’s Croker shadow?

Like they have done for all of their Croke Park matches in Jim Gavin’s time, the Dublin footballers will congregate in the Gibson Hotel, their corporate partners, a few hours before throw-in.

There they go into camp before they make the 10-minute Garda-escorted bus trip to Croke Park.

They’ll return to the Gibson Hotel afterwards.

Everything run like clockwork, everything as they would expect.

Nothing requiring rehearsal because it’s all been done before.

Projection

How big is Dublin’s Croker shadow?

When mentioning the eight-point advantage, was Walsh merely projecting Galway’s own dismal record in Croke Park than considering Dublin’s dominance there? Or was it a combination of both.

One win for Galway in their last 14 league and Championship visits there seems as much a hurdle as facing Dublin on their home patch.

History

How big is Dublin’s Croker shadow?

The fact is Dublin have lost only three finals there — last year’s league v Kerry, the 2010 Leinster SFC v Meath and 2011 league v Cork — in 20 this decade. Enough to make the hardiest of rival either gulp or glorify.

At the same time… Galway won’t need to be reminded that Mayo, a team they have beaten every time they’ve faced them in Stephen Rochford’s reign, have pushed Dublin to a draw and two one-point defeats these last two seasons in Croke Park.

The advice is simple: Play the team, not the venue.


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