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Red flags raised but no sign that blue tide is turning in Leinster


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While Louth gave it a good go against Dublin in the provincial final yesterday, the outcome was never in doubt

Simpler times. It was the dreg end of Dessie Farrell’s playing career when his every game resembled something out of the Battle of Wounded Knee.

What an odd era it seems now for Dublin football. A time of much shouting but little to shout about.

Dublin were struggling in lots of ways back then but, most obviously, for an identity. What they were, and what they thought they should be, didn’t tally.

The annual affirmations of the discrepancy between these two notions generated great amusement beyond the Liffey’s banks.

Still. Summer was fuelled by a lethal mixture of hype and hope. The crowds suggested Dublin were still a big deal. The media attention reflected that. Results? Not so much.

Around then, it was decreed that Leinster would need to become part of their fiefdom. Dublin spoke about establishing a “stranglehold” on the province, without which it would not be entertained that they might challenge for something bigger.

That the stranglehold would cause a fatality was not anticipated. RIP Leinster Senior Football Championship. Death by asphyxia.

We’re 14 years into the current streak. Louth gave it as good a bash yesterday as anyone in a dozen seasons and still it never felt as though the game would finish any other way.

That Louth gave it a go, that their manager insisted they could have given it an even better go, was undoubtedly a good thing. But not so good that it might suggest the tide is turning and can be turned.

Some perspective. That it’s easier to envisage the end of the world than Dublin losing in Leinster is only partly a commentary on global warming. The only thing that might stop Dublin winning Leinster titles is if they signed Harry Kane.

In yesterday’s programme notes, Leinster GAA chairman Derek Kent described the relative lack of public support for this year’s matches as a “red flag”, promising a review of admission fees, match scheduling and venue choices.

But, as a love-struck young Veronan once opined, a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet – and a train wreck of a competition played in smaller venues is still a train wreck.

“Well, I’m blue in the face talking about this one,” said Farrell yesterday, puffing out his cheeks. “To be honest, I’ll let it up to them, whatever. They’re not listening to me and why should they? So, whatever the decide to do, they’re going to do.

“But we’re happy to play away from home. I said this already and at the risk of repeating myself, the Dublin followers like to travel.

“There’s always a great atmosphere in those regional venues. I think our boys respond better to that stimulus as well. It’s something different and we like being on the road too. But ultimately it will be a decision for the powers that be.”

​Only 23,113 made it to Croke Park yesterday. Clearly, the days of sell-out Croke Park crowds for Leinster matches are over.

In 2005, Farrell’s last year with Dublin and the first of 19 Leinster titles in 20 years, a crowd of 39,852 came to their summer opener: a Leinster quarter-final with Longford, a standalone game, in Croke Park.

More people came to Dublin’s home league game with Mayo in 2022 (23,180) and two of their three home Division 1 matches in 2020.

Getting an average league crowd at a provincial final suggests a change of venue for the semi-finals isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Yesterday marked Stephen Cluxton’s 18th Leinster title. He’d have 20 were it not for those two lost years in 2021 and ’22. As it stands, he only has three fewer Leinster titles than Meath.

In fact, only eight counties – Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Meath, Galway, Mayo, Roscommon and Cavan – have won more provincial titles than Cluxton.

Ger Brennan won a few Leinster medals himself. The day was undeniably a weird one for him. Seven of the Dublin panel were part of the 2013 All-Ireland-winning squad, of which Brennan was a member and leader.

“It’s a bit weird because I was probably a bit diplomatic in the previous media stuff last week when we did it,” he admitted. “I’m obviously a Dub, but I’ve been out of the loop since 2015.

“Obviously the likes of James, Clucko, Mick Fitz, Jack, still a few of the boys [there], Ciarán, that I played with.

“Love the lads to bits and very fond of them, but you just have to kind of separate that on match-day that you’ve a job to do. Louth have asked me to be their manager, so you’re trying to prepare them as best you can and ultimately that’s what I did. That’s the mindset I took.”

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