Sunday 23 October 2016

Curve Ball: Fairness as important as the fans

Pat Flanagan
Pat Flanagan

DUBS in Croker, always in Croker … apologies for retracing old ground but this perennial debate was given a topical twist this week by differing comments at the launch of the Leinster senior championships.

In a nutshell, Leinster chairman John Horan defended his council's policy of fixing every Dublin SFC match for Croke Park on the basis that it "makes no sense" moving games to a venue that can't house all those who wish to attend.

Horan says it's "not a matter of maximising finances" - cynics may disagree but we'll take the chairman at his word. In other words, the most important people in this argument are Dublin supporters.

Offaly boss Pat Flanagan (right) counters that when you play Dublin in Croker every time, "it's not a fair competition any more."

So then, who should be the 'senior bondholders' in this battle of rights? Fans, players, managers - or the noble concept of fairness?

Well, let's cut through the polemics and delve in some facts. This debate is purely about whether Dublin footballers should occasionally play their provincial opener outside of HQ, something which last happened in 2006 with that sepia-tinted trip to Longford. The semi-finals in Leinster always involve a Croker double-header and no one is proposing a change there.

So, how many have attended Dublin's last four Leinster quarter-finals? In 2011 it was 41,786 (for a Dublin/Laois and Kildare/Meath double-header); in 2012 it was 31,530 (Dublin/Louth, Wexford/Longford); in 2013 it was 33,008 (Dublin/Westmeath, Kildare/Offaly); and last year it was 40,960 (Dublin/Laois, Kildare/Louth).

All of these were double-headers, one including the traditional Kildare/Meath crowd-puller. But in two other years the attendance only crept into the low thirties.

Based on the above, you can argue that several thousand would be shut out if Dublin's SFC opener were moved down the sticks. Enough to decree it should never happen?

Here are some alternatives with approximate capacities, confirmed by county board officials yesterday: O'Moore Park Portlaoise (18,500, increasing to 22,500 later this year); O'Connor Park Tullamore (between 17,000 and 18,000); and Nowlan Park Kilkenny (25,000).

Jim Gavin has repeatedly said his team will "play anywhere", so consider if Dublin were asked to open their SFC campaign, even once every second year, in one of the above. Yes, it would be all-ticket with less concessions. Yes, some fans might miss out on a ticket - or merely decide the travel was too much hassle.

But consider the positive flip side … an electric atmosphere both in the ground and around the town. The opposition might even believe, foolishly or otherwise, that for once they've a chance of upsetting the Dubs.

It would at least convey the impression of a level playing field. And remember, this debate is happening in an unprecedented era when Dublin have won nine of the last ten Leinster SFC titles.

Keep winning at that rate and even Dublin's 16th man might stay at home for the first round, be it in Croker or Kilkenny.

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