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Friday 15 December 2017

Frank Roche: There's no real profit in keeping Dubs in Croker

Bernard Brogan, Dublin, lifts the Sam Maguire cup. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.
Bernard Brogan, Dublin, lifts the Sam Maguire cup. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile.

LAST Sunday, All-Ireland club champions St Vincent's hosted Garrycastle in Parnell Park. Their Donnycarney home-from-home qualifies under that literal yardstick - a stone's throw away from Páirc Naomh Uinsionn - thus making the long odds on an upset even longer.

Did unfamiliarity contribute to Garrycastle's initial rabbit-in-headlights demeanour? Hard to tell, but the Westmeath men deserve huge credit for their transformation from rabbits to tigers either side of half-time.

Still, it begs the question - might they have won in Mullingar? More to the point - was the venue fair?

Well actually, yes ... it's called the luck of the draw. Garrycastle could rely on home comforts against Longford's Emmet Óg Killoe in the previous round. Vincent's had to travel for their quarter-final against Portlaoise (again, the vagaries of the draw) but it was preordained that the winners would have home advantage for the semi-final.

Now fast-forward six months ... next May 31, the Dublin footballers will host Offaly or Longford in Croke Park. The luck of the draw? More like the luck of the Dubs.

This, we should stress, is not Dublin's fault. It's the lure of filthy lucre and the fear of anyone in Leinster - county delegates included - to stand up and cry 'Enough!'

This column was in Pearse Park back in 2006, the last day the Dublin senior footballers travelled outside their Croke Park comfort zone for a championship match. It seems so long ago that all our memories are tinged in sepia.

As it transpired, Paul Caffrey's provincial holders escaped with their Leinster ambitions barely intact, winning by 1-12 to 0-13. Whatever about the football, the occasion itself was memorable: a midland town teeming with exuberant Dubs on tour, mingling with the dare-to-dream locals in a crowd of 15,213.

If Longford happen to beat Offaly in next year's SFC opener, there will be no Pearse Park revisited. Instead, they will travel into Goliath's den, lambs to the slaughter as part of a double-header with the Dublin and Galway hurlers.

On one level, the Leinster Council's logic makes eminent scheduling sense. "Health and safety plays a ferocious role in all of this," explained acting CEO Michael Reynolds earlier this month.

"Longford and Dublin in 2006 could not happen in 2014 without greatly reducing the attendance. We could do it if we decided 8,000 was acceptable compared to 16,000 eight years ago."

Fair point - but what about playing the game in Tullamore? Over 17,000 were comfortably housed in O'Connor Park for the Kilkenny/Galway replay last June; Offaly say the venue can accommodate "about 19,000". Wouldn't Offaly, in hosting Longford, love the carrot of a home quarter-final?

Moreover, even if Pearse Park is no longer deemed suitable, might Longford not prefer taking their chances against Dublin in neutral Tullamore?

Of course, the Leinster executive can hardly be blamed if every single county plays dumb. According to Reynolds, at the last council meeting: "We presented the draft fixtures for all the championships and there wasn't a murmur, good, bad or indifferent."

Cynics will argue that it's all about the money - but it's not as if Leinster would be losing out on a full-house windfall by relocating the Dubs. We're only talking about one SFC opener per year: last summer, 40,960 turned up for Dublin's quarter-final against Laois while, a year earlier, just 33,008 attended the Dublin/Westmeath and Kildare/Offaly double-header.

There is one overriding reason why Leinster should take the financial hit: it's called fairness.

Given Dublin's evolution over the past decade, coupled with the relative regression of several would-be challengers, there is little enough chance of them being toppled in Leinster - even away.

But when their every game is on familiar home ground (that 'neutral' HQ argument simply doesn't stack up) the notion of a level playing field becomes laughable.

And in the long term, no one profits: not the wannabes, not Leinster ... not even Dublin.

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