Is Ireland big enough for Dublin and its vast sporting reach?

Hard to believe but it’s over six years since Dublin GAA’s provocative ‘Blue Wave’ strategic plan was met with a tsunami of snipes.

Is Ireland big enough for Dublin and its vast sporting reach?

A Sam Maguire every three years, it stated. A Liam MacCarthy every five. Pat Gilroy has it all to do now to make up for lost time with the hurlers but he had only just broken the All-Ireland drought with the footballers when he described the grand ambitions laid down by his own people for the big ball as “unpractical”.

Little did he, or any of us, know then what was to come.

Crammed onto the bill underneath those headline acts were proposals that the county should be afforded provincial status in terms of funding and that it be offered a place on the GAA’s management committee, but it was the pop at Leinster Rugby that generated the most heat.

Though their city neighbours went unnamed, there was no debating the intended target with lines that pointed to the “appeal of a flourishing professional franchise”, how it represented a considerable challenge in the battle for hearts and minds, and how Dublin GAA was determined to “reinforce the fact that Dublin is GAA country”.

“The Blue Jersey is a unique, inclusive brand, uniting Dublin’s dense expanse, blurring the difference in class and possession which became so pointedly manifest during the delusional days of the Celtic Tiger,” it read. “We can’t copyright a colour but the subliminal exploitation of Dublin’s unique sporting hue by our competitors has not gone unnoticed.”

Leinster’s response was an obvious one and made for an easy PR win. Their status as a 12-county organisation took a prominent role in the rebuttal, with a spokesman claiming that the achievements of Kilkenny’s hurlers had given the club as much pleasure that past September as those of Gilroy’s Dubs.

Pat Gilroy
Pat Gilroy

“We don’t see ourselves as a threat and likewise we do not see the GAA as a threat,” they responded.

They were right on both counts although Leinster Rugby will always house its HQ in Dublin and the city will always be the likely source of the vast majority of their players. The county as a whole has a population of more than 1.3m people and counting, and, here’s the rub: it is clearly big enough to accommodate the egos and the whims of both sporting organisations.

And more besides.

Dundalk and Cork may have superseded Dublin as the powers of excellence in the League of Ireland but the capital’s centrality to soccer in the 26 counties remains uncontested in pretty much every other way. No one, surely, would contest the result every season if Dublin was served by just the one league club and not half a dozen.

So, it’s not Dublin GAA who should be worried about Leinster Rugby, or vice versa, but those residing outside The Pale who should be looking at both with unease.

The question now should be: Is Ireland big enough for Dublin and its sporting reach and ambition as a county?

If the island of Ireland were a blanket, then the western extremities and centres as disparate as Dingle, Galway, and Donegal would have long since been left exposed by the endless yanking of the covers from the eastern seabed. It is a problem that has affected every corner of Irish life.

The proposed Ireland 2040 plan will supposedly attempt to bring an end to this inexorable pull. Cork, naturally enough, has been identified as the obvious point from which to start evening the scales between Dublin and its hinterland — expected to account for three out of every four houses built if things don’t soon change — and the rest.

Sport is in no way immune to all this.

The National Sports Campus is up and running in the capital’s western approaches. An impressive project, it is hard not to hold reservations when someone like DCU’s Niall Moyna points out that the money would have been better served by constructing smaller centres around the country to feed the grassroots first.

By inverting that usual pyramid, it seems only logical to suspect Dublin will also be the most fertile breeding ground for future generations of swimmers, badminton players, and gymnasts. An equation of facilities + huge population + access to the best coaches can’t result in anything but a skewing of such numbers towards the host location.

Whatever your take on the issue of Dublin GAA’s success, the fact is they have wiped the floor at club and county levels in recent years while Leinster Rugby’s pre-eminence is to be found in their trophy cabinet, on Joe Schmidt’s teamsheet, and, most interestingly, in the growing number of Leinster men playing for the other three provinces.

John Costello inadvertently hinted at just this broad church of dominance in December 2011 when he took aim at the doubters and the cynics unleashed by the ‘Blue Wave’ and Dublin’s distinctly unIrish decision to stick out their chests and declare such a bald commitment to excellence and ambition.

“Aiming to be as successful as Kerry in football and Kilkenny in hurling cannot be considered unrealistic for a county of our scale,” he said.

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