Colm Parkinson: It's not fair that Dublin get two Croke Park games in Super 8s
"Days are rare in rugby when you get a ground full of absolutely manic supporters. It's different when you're on the opposition line and you're attacking, but when you're on your own line deep in doodoo, and suddenly there's 15,000 people shouting `Munster', Jesus, you get out of there pretty quickly. You've got somebody else pushing behind you. That's great."
Keith Wood describing the lift his team got from the Munster roar in Thomond Park.
We know about Munster's incredible home record. Now the capacity is about 25,000 and Ronan O’Gara experienced it in the opposition dugout while on the Racing 92 coaching staff.
"I forget how good this place is if you are a Munster player. Unfortunately it is only when you’re finished you kind of appreciate how good Munster have it. It’s probably one of the best atmospheres in world rugby. That’s how good they have it."
I shouldn’t have to tell anyone about the advantages of playing at home.
Familiarity with the pitch and your surroundings, no travel and sleeping in your own bed the night before give an advantage to the home team. Add to that the roar of the home crowd, usually massively outnumbering the away support, can give players a lift when it’s needed. As Keith Wood said, “you’ve got somebody else behind you.”
The decision to give Dublin, the best team in the country, two home games in the Super 8’s is shocking. It’s a decision based on money and could not have been made in the interest of fairness to players, which all governing bodies should ensure for their competitions.
Since Dublin started playing their home league games in Croke Park it’s just impossible to argue that it’s not their home ground. It’s their home ground for the league after all. Are we supposed to believe it’s not for the championship?
They play in Croke Park more than any other county plays in their own home ground. It’s home advantage. That’s a fact. For every game except the All-Ireland final, they enjoy the advantage of the majority of the support. They are usually indulged by being allowed take over Hill 16, making it their part of the stadium. Neutral venue? I don’t think so.
I have experienced the roar of the Dublin crowd.
In the first half of the Leinster final in 2007, we were leading them by three points coming towards half time after playing really well. There were almost 82,000 fans in Croke Park that day, most likely about 15,000 from Laois. We had them rattled a bit but then a few minutes before half time Mark Vaughan scored a goal. The stadium erupted. I couldn’t hear myself think. I tried to communicate with our midfield for the next kickout but they couldn’t hear me and I was only playing wing forward, about 15 meters away.
Within a minute, they scored another goal and then a couple of points and our lead had vanished. We went in 5 points down after playing so well. Our heads scrambled in those five minutes while over 60,000 Dublin fans cheered their team on.
Do not try to tell me that having the majority of support wasn’t a factor in that game. I was there, I know.
Now there was nothing unfair about that because it was a Leinster final and Dublin played their league games in Parnell Park. They had the majority of the support because, obviously, they have a much bigger population. I have no issues with that. But it was a factor.
And, now, Donegal have to travel to Croke Park to play Dublin in their ‘neutral’ game in the Super 8s.
They have a young squad, many of whom will never have played there at senior level or experienced the intimidating crowd, or Hill 16 packed with Dubs.
They’ll travel four hours the day before and will sleep in a strange bed in a hotel ahead of the game. They will have meetings discussing the crowd and silencing Hill 16. Free-takers will have to contend with kicking into a jeering hill.
Why should they have to do all that for a neutral game? The game should be played in Clones, which is neutral for both counties, and the tickets split 50/50. That would be fair. But, as we’ve seen with the Kildare saga, the GAA doesn’t do fair when it comes to making money.
🔊@Woolberto was really, really, REALLY pumped up that Kildare stuck it to the man with #NewbridgeOrNowhere... until he realised one very important thing 😂😂😂@TheGAAHour w/ @paddypower pic.twitter.com/QytJ4yg6j2
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) June 30, 2018
Another huge factor of home advantage, and one that was obvious during the Leinster final against Laois, is how the crowd can influence the referee. If you think referees are not influenced by the home support then think again.
Professor, Alan Nevill, conducted an experiment where he divided 40 referees into two groups of 20. He asked them to watch a replay of a game in 1998 between Liverpool and Leicester, played in Anfield. One of the groups watched with stadium noise turned up and the other half in silence. They were asked to decide if 47 different incidents were fouls in the game.
The results showed the referees watching with the sound turned up called 15.5% less foul against Liverpool then the other group.
"The evidence is overwhelming, and it is across a range of sports including football (soccer)" Nevill said.
These marginal calls usually go Dublin’s way.
Remember in the 2016 All-Ireland semi final, after about 45 minutes, Kevin McManamon fisted wide. The umpire, who had a good view of it, waved wide but Kevin McManamon pleaded that it was touched by a Kerry defender, and with help from the Hill, David Gough unbelievably overruled his umpire.
Not even mentioning the same players' late hit on Peter Crowley in injury time, which Gough admitted he got wrong saying, “I know I got it wrong. I didn’t get it wrong on purpose, I just didn’t see it”.
But why didn’t his linesman flag for it? Did he not see it either?
In the interest of fairness, this neutral game should be in Clones and Dublin should play their remaining home game against Roscommon or Armagh in Croke Park.
Alternatively, Dublin should not be permitted to play league games at headquarters and only play there from the Leinster semi-final onwards. I don’t think any counties would have a problem then - it would be a neutral venue. Dublin will always have advantages in Croker but they are advantages based on their huge support base and the fact the national stadium is in Dublin - there’s nothing anyone can do about that.
But if they continue to use the national stadium as their home ground for league games then there is a solution. At the start of the year every county should have to nominate their home venue and obviously no county can play their Super 8 neutral game in that nominated home venue.
That would be problem solved - but, with the extra revenue a full Croke Park can generate, I’m not sure fairness will ever come into it.