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Dublin scheme victim of its own success

Former GAA president O'Neill explains how helping out capital in hour of need has created new problem

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Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Delaney Cup (for the 10th time in a row) following their victory in the Leinster SFC final over Meath at Croke Park on Saturday

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Delaney Cup (for the 10th time in a row) following their victory in the Leinster SFC final over Meath at Croke Park on Saturday

SPORTSFILE

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Delaney Cup (for the 10th time in a row) following their victory in the Leinster SFC final over Meath at Croke Park on Saturday

Liam O'Neill remembers at time when Dublin posed a problem of a different kind for Croke Park.

"The thing that was being thrown at us then was that we were letting Dublin slip off the radar," the former GAA President recalls of his time as Leinster Council's games development chairperson, just after the turn of the century.

"It was said that the GAA needed a strong Dublin. We were lambasted because Dublin were slipping off the map. And we addressed it.

"But," he goes on, "the difficulty with development at any level in any organisation is: you plug one gap and another one opens.

"So if we hadn't been successful in helping Dublin, if we hadn't backed them and they slipped further, we would have been absolutely lambasted for that.

"Now the GAA are being criticised because of their success. And it's an amazing turn of events.

Solved

"There was a problem. It was addressed. It was solved. Now it's too successful. And now it's seen as a different kind of problem."

Sunday may have been a soothing balm for Saturday's sores as far as the viability of the provincial championships are concerned, but the scars will take time to heal.

Even in a pandemic, with no crowds and minimal income, the Leinster football championship seems like Croke Park's biggest problem.

A 21-point hammering of Meath, a Division 1 team this spring, in the Leinster final suggests the issue of Dublin's imperial dominance over the province isn't simply going to work itself out.

Not when the average age of the Dublin team on the night, minus Stephen Cluxton, was just over 26 and a half years.

"People want knee-jerk solutions to everything," O'Neill points out.

"And if this was easy to solve, it would have been solved before now. And if money could solve our problems in the GAA, we'd have solved them long ago."

The issue of money is a recurring one. Dublin's ability to generate commercial revenue far outstrips any of their rival counties, but it's the allocation of development funding from Croke Park that draws greatest scrutiny.

"You can use statistics any way you like," O'Neill says.

"But you don't need the same number of coaching people in Laois or Carlow as you do in Dublin. You just don't know.

"The numbers don't stack up."

In 2016, O'Neill was put in charge of the 'East Leinster Project' which saw an extra €1.5m for an initial three years for coaching and games development projects in the main commuter counties outside Dublin.

The additional funding from central level was agreed for Louth, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow to put more coaches on the ground in an effort to cater for the rapid population growth in those areas.

"In some ways, it was a victim of its own success," O'Neill explains.

"We got great people in. But what happens then is other people come looking for them. So there was a turnover.

"So the fact that idea was good mitigated against it being more successful in the long run. That's the way things are with development."

It should be noted in any debate about the state of football in Leinster that only three of the other 10 teams in Leinster actually have to play Dublin in a given year.

And the collective records of Leinster counties in the qualifiers is poor.

It's now over a decade since another Leinster team has appeared in an All-Ireland semi-final, Kieran McGeeney's Kildare in 2010.

And other than Kildare in 2013, '14 and '18, only Laois, Westmeath and Meath have spent any time in Division 1 of the league in the past decade and even then, for only a single season apiece.

"What happens in every walk of life is because things are going OK, people get numbed into this sense that things will always be OK. You have to change. You have to try new things," O'Neill stresses.

"What we have to do - and this is something our politicians failed to do and the Catholic church failed to do - we must ask our membership.

"We need more people to start a debate," he adds.

"I think there is an appetite in the province now to address it.

"And there are a lot of things being done. But at the moment, that gap doesn't seem fillable."


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