Saturday 25 January 2020

Shanley: Capital hill has its own house in order

Outgoing chairman says critics of Dublin’s senior football success are wide of mark

Dublin County Board chairman Seán Shanley
Dublin County Board chairman Seán Shanley

For Seán Shanley, it started a year earlier than expected and ended with a 'bombshell' dropped by Jim Gavin.

After five years, Shanley's last official act as Dublin GAA chairman will be tonight in Parnell Park at their annual convention, normally a scene of routine farewell for outgoing officers.

Yet the last ten days of his term have been a scramble.

"Immediately after the final, everyone was asking the question - will Jim stay?" Shanley explains of the closing days of his reign and the drama therein.

"It was sort of gone out of our heads then. He never said he was staying but likewise, he never said he was going.

"He was enquiring about League fixtures and the O'Byrne Cup. So it was a totally out of the blue on (that) Saturday morning."

"He told John Costello first and then told the players at the meeting that had already been called.

"And that was it."

So that's how it ended.

How it began was a similarly frantic week in December 2014.

For four years, Shanley had been vice-chairman to Andy Kettle and so far as anyone could predict, would take the chair in 2015.

Kettle had been hit by a second bout of cancer that October, and his health deteriorated rapidly.


"We had convention at the appointed date. But we just got word that day that Andy was very bad," Shanley recalls.

"We went ahead and duly elected Andy as chairman for that year. But he died the next day.

"So then we had to have another convention to elect a chairman and a central council delegate. It was a year earlier than I expected."

Therein, he saw his brief as simply "to make the games stronger in Dublin".

"I was chairman of the club (Craobh Chiaráin) for years. That's much more onerous," Shanley reckons.

"In a club, you're everything. Bar man and plumber, electrician. Everything.

"We have a great system in Dublin. And we're blessed to have John Costello at the head."

His distinction is being the Dublin chairman who watched his county win the All-Ireland SFC title in each year of his reign.

If public weariness, from some quarters, of their success has morphed into something more like resentment, Shanley says he hasn't encountered much of it in his dealings with other counties.

"Maybe it's only to my face . . . but there's goodwill towards the team," he notes.

"You'll always get that bit of envy or jealousy or begrudging. We're successful now since 2011. But before 2011 and that breakthrough, there was no one talking about money.

"We were promoting the game. And we got it right. We weren't bringing in high profile managers for the senior football team and paying them.

"We started at the bottom, with Go Games and nurseries and the GPOs. That scheme is all over the country.

"We've got so many people in Dublin now who never had any background in GAA who are now involved. We had to coach them into how to coach.

"It was a difficult task. And it took a long time for it to come to fruition at senior."

Shanley justifies the level of central funding from the GAA with "simple numbers".

"The numbers of teams in the county, the numbers of games we play," he adds.

"It has to be fair for the number of players and teams that we're catering for and the areas that we're trying to increase the penetration of Gaelic games in."

There have been obvious highlights of Shanley's time in the Dublin chair, the 2011 All-Ireland football final (when he was vice-chairman) and this year's fifth Sam Maguire in-a-row being the most obvious.

Going back to his time as vice-chairman, he cites the 2011 League hurling title and the 2013 Leinster SHC win as successes that were close to his 'small ball' heart.

"I think it will always be the weaker sport in Dublin," he notes with a tone of regret. "We thought winning a National League and a Leinster title was the big breakthrough but then we went two steps back again.

"It's much tighter in hurling. And it's not soccer or rugby we're losing them to, it's Gaelic football.

"When you think of Ciarán Kilkenny and Cormac Costello and Con O'Callaghan.

"To lose so many of them….we just have to have more quality hurlers and if some of them go to football, so be it.

"Mattie has a good bunch now," he adds. "But quality and numbers - that's what you need."

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