Kildare manager Glenn Ryan’s post-match interview with GAAGO after their loss to Dublin on Sunday certainly raised plenty of eyebrows. For those unaware, he said, in short, that Dublin’s familiarity with Croke Park is an advantage, in ways big and small, and that, in particular, there were off-pitch protocols that always seemed to go their way.
This week I got in touch with the GAA about one of those off-field protocol issues that Ryan was upset about, which is that Dublin always have the same dressing-room in the Hogan Stand. Not important, but not nothing either. I was on a GAA Stadium tour with my nephews a number of years ago, and even though I was extremely hungover, I seemed to recall a tour guide explaining why this was.
The dressingrooms in the Hogan Stand are allocated according to a county’s position in the alphabet ... as Gaeilge. So only Aontroim and Árd Mhacha are ahead of Áth Cliath, and that’s why Dublin have been in the same dressingroom in Croker for the last two decades (since Ray Cosgrove hit the post in 2002, presumably). So: not a rule designed to aid Dublin, but a quirk of spelling.
Post-match interviews, when they’re good, are mostly about ensuring the emotion of the game is still somewhere in the person being interviewed. This is seen most effectively on TG4, where I have passed endless summer evenings engaged in a guessing game with myself about how likely or otherwise it is that the minor or U-20 player who has just won Laoch na hImeartha will turn the air blue with a few cuss words.
It seemed like pitchside reporter Aisling O’Reilly had got to Ryan while he was still immersed in the game, and he duly said what he had to say about everything in Croke Park seemingly favouring Dublin. In the press conference afterwards he accepted that “there was no one incident in the game that swung it” before adding “you can talk about sour grapes if you like, but it’s a familiarity that’s certainly not Dublin’s fault.”
So, we should ask the question. If it’s not Dublin’s fault, then who’s fault is it that the Leinster senior football semi-finals were played in Croke Park as a double-header in front of a less than half-full Croke Park?
Time after time the Leinster Council has had chances to fix this, and they’ve never done it. And to be clear – when I say the Leinster Council, I mean all of the 12 county boards in Leinster, including Kildare.
At this stage, I have zero sympathy for any Leinster county giving out about Dublin playing provincial games in Croke Park. How the managers of Leinster counties haven’t got together with their county boards to say that this can’t go on is beyond me. The draw was made six months ago. Ryan knew Kildare would in all likelihood be playing Dublin at this stage of the competition. The place to win these fights is in the boardroom.
Donegal realised that in 2019, when they tried to put a stop to Dublin playing two games in Croke Park every year in the Super 8s. Donegal introduced a motion saying that no county be allowed to nominate Croke Park as their home venue. That is obviously absurd, because of course Croke Park is Dublin’s home venue. In that case Donegal were trying to move Dublin’s home game in the group to Parnell Park, which was also obviously absurd.
But the Super 8s were designed to give everyone one home game, one away game, and one game in Croke Park. All Donegal had to do was to ask for that Croke Park round to be known as a ‘neutral venue’ round, let Dublin play one game in a neutral venue like every other team, and it might have got more support than it did. As it was, it was denounced from the Congress pulpit as mean-spirited and divisive.
Which brings us to this week. The draws have been made for the four groups of four in the All-Ireland championship. Again, each team will have one game played at home, one game away, and another game, this time at ‘a neutral venue’. That is how the GAA’s own explainer describes it.
If Dublin are playing two games at their home venue while everyone else plays one, it will be utterly farcical. To offer that benefit twice to one team out of 16 would be a perversion – but it still hasn’t been ruled out.
If that decision is being weighed up today or tomorrow morning, it’s not too late for someone to stand up in a meeting and declare that situation intolerable. If you win your provincial final, then you are a first seed, and you get to play your first game at home. The benefit of playing at home is literally written into how the competition is designed.
Fairness is what Ryan wanted on Sunday, even if he and Kildare were six months late (or 10 years, depending on your outlook) raising the issue. Fairness is what Donegal wanted in 2019, even if they were mistaken in their wording of that congress motion. Let there be no prevarication or lack of clarity this time around. It simply can’t happen.