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Declan Bogue: Dublin's home comforts smack of inequality in battle for Sam

Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire trophy in 2018.
Dublin captain Stephen Cluxton lifts the Sam Maguire trophy in 2018.
Cup quest: Donegal‘s Hugh McFadden and his team-mates are aiming to end Dublin’s Sam Maguire dominance
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Back when I was a cub reporter, a former editor once put my opening paragraph nerves at ease with some sound advice.

"Just get the intro down. Then move on, write the rest and come back to the top after. Chances are, it won't be far off. And do you mind not cutting your toenails at the desk?"

'Super8s' is not a title that the GAA would have picked for the extended Group Stages of the All-Ireland quarter-finals introduced last year, but they are stuck with it now.

Rather appropriate that the title was dreamt up by a journalist riffing on football Championship reform, long before it actually was.

A measure of how widespread the term has become was the launch of the Super8s in the home of famed Monaghan club Scotstown yesterday. A neat parallel could be found that, along with Dublin, the club of Darren and Kieran Hughes, Conor McCarthy and Rory Beggan are also chasing their fifth consecutive Monaghan title.

Anyway, proceedings got underway with interviews being carried out by TG4 presenter Gráinne McElwain, herself from nearby Ballinode.

Four players from the provincial champions were present; Jason Foley (Kerry), Hugh McFadden (Donegal), Davy Byrne (Dublin) and Enda Smith (Roscommon) sat on four high stools acquired from the bar for the purpose of a powder-puff interview like a younger, hungrier version of Westlife, just waiting for the key change to stand up.

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McFadden revealed himself as the man with the humour. Asked about his immediate reaction at the end of a provincial final success, he said he could be met by anyone in the first few seconds; lads that you haven't seen in years, your uncle, even a fella that was beating the lugs off you in a club league game a few weeks before as the crowd takes over the Clones pitch.

While Davy Byrne, like any player in the Jim Gavin system you might expect, stuck to the chat of process and 'all we are concentrating on at the moment', the most revelatory he became was talking of his reaction to beating Meath in the Leinster final and how they are immediately focused on the next game.

Such a humdrum remark however was rescued by McFadden in a later answer, who chipped in with: "While David was talking about being focused on the next game, our focus was on getting to the Abbey Hotel for the night."

McFadden is an interesting one. In the print media interviews afterwards, he stood out as the one contributor that actively engaged in a conversation rather than trying to say just enough to get by and having a dozen reporters vainly grasping for something of interest.

Even prior to that, he talked about going down to his home club of Killybegs in the lead in to a big game. There, on Thursday and Friday evenings, he could just mingle freely with the Under-8 and Under-10 nursery section of the club and the humbling effect it has when they can ruthlessly critique your latest performance.

That adds up when you see the picture of him after the win over Fermanagh when he was captured hugging little Seanie Gallagher, a son of Fermanagh manager Rory, who coaches McFadden's club Killybegs, where he has also been living for several years.

He also gave us the pleasure of answering a question directly when asked about Dublin getting to play two games in the Super8s at home in Croke Park.

"I suppose there are two different ways to look at it. As a player, I don't pay any attention to it. Heroically, there's only one place you want to beat Dublin, and that's a full Croke Park. That's the reality of it," he said.

"As a member of the Association and looking at the equality and fairness of it, I can see where they're coming from. It's a home venue. That's my opinion, but it doesn't bother me, I'll go play them wherever they want. But there are two different sides to look at, you know."

As much as GAA officialdom would like it to, this is an issue that hangs over the undoubted excellence of the Dublin senior football team.

Leaving aside questions of funding and whatever else is said to be in their favour, that Dublin get to play two out of three Super8s game at home is a farce. And it is only something that will come up time and again every season while it continues.

The Donegal motion last year opposing this was already doomed before it got to the floor. Being described by some lofty administrators as being 'mean-spirited' was a cheap insult.

Asked about it again, GAA president John Horan chose to deflect, saying: "Dublin have never, ever complained about being asked to travel outside Dublin."

It's clear the GAA are never going to tackle this issue from within. What a pity, because, as we stand a week and a half away from the busiest and most exciting period all year, the sheer unfairness of the system is one that the ruling body is content to maintain.

As good as Dublin are, and they are a joy to watch, this in-built inequality stands against them, and is a very bad look for the integrity of the competition.

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