Many GAA fans outside the Pale would get a big surprise if they looked at Dublin GAA’s website to find that Parnell Park is listed as the county’s home ground.
Most football fans when asked where Dublin play their home games would reply Croke Park. It’s an easy enough answer to get wrong. Over the last decade the number of Dublin’s home championship matches played in the home of the GAA has grown. On their way to winning the All-Ireland last year, Dublin never had to leave the comfort of Croke Park. Many fans believe this familiarity with Croke Park gives Dublin an unfair advantage over their opponents when it comes to crunch championship clashes.
For all Mayo fans worried that their county is a few points down before the ball is thrown in for Sunday’s game in Croke Park because Dublin have home advantage, they need have no fears.
Last year the Dubs played eleven of their fourteen games at GAA headquarters but the myth that Dublin enjoy an advantage when it comes to big games because they play so often in Croke Park is just that, a myth.
For all the countless games they have played over the years in the fabled stadium 2011’s All-Ireland triumph was their first since 1995. Not only that but it was their first time reaching the decider since they last won Sam Maguire.
Dublin don’t fix their games for Croke Park, it is the GAA’s CCCC who decide where matches are to be held. The fact that they can draw a bigger crowd than most counties and Croke Park is in the heart of Dublin helps to ensure that the vast majority of Dublin’s championship matches are played there.
Parnell Park doesn’t have the space to host Dublin’s championship matches. The Donnycarney ground has a capacity of just 11,500 meaning it isn’t suitable for championship football. As part of their Blue Wave strategy, last year Dublin’s county board unveiled plans to build a mid size stadium and training facilities in the capital that would cater for the smaller crowds that attend the Dub’s less high profile games.
Dublin’s excellent record in Leinster in the last decade is another factor in their Croke Park residency. The boys in blue have won seven of the last eight provincial championships. This means they tend to avoid the qualifiers and the trek through the provinces that attends the back door system.
The All-Ireland champions’ star wattage is evidenced by the fact that Sunday’s match is almost certain to be the first sell out game of the year in Croke Park. Donegal’s victory over Kerry last week only brought 55,000 punters through the turnstiles. No other county has the same population or pulling power of the Dubs and they line the GAA’s coffers.
Players and fans from other counties point to the intimidating atmosphere generated by the feverish support coming from the Hill. Before Wexford played Dublin in the Leinster semi final back in June Aindreas Doyle railed against what he perceived as the unfair advantage that Dublin get from playing the majority of their matches in Croke Park.
However that support has a dark side too. The venom and vitriol that can be directed at the Dubs from their passionate and vocal support when things go wrong in games and Dublin are under pressure can have a negative psychological effect on Dublin’s players.
Speaking earlier this summer Dublin star Bernard Brogan insisted that the All-Ireland champions didn’t gain an edge over their rivals by playing in Croke Park.
“I think other teams always raise their game when they come to Croke Park. If you ask anyone if they’d rather play down the country or want to play in Croke Park, I’d say 99% of them would want to play on the big day in Croker. As a footballer, that’s what you want to aspire to, you want to be there in front of the big crowd in Croker,” Brogan argued. He continued: “I don’t think you’d get too many complaints from teams we play because it’s in our backyard. It’s a big wide pitch and whoever works hard out there will get the rewards and whoever wants it more on the day will get it. I wouldn’t see it as an advantage. As a footballer, we all want to play there and any footballer will say the same.”
Sunday’s semi final will be the fifth of Dublin’s five games so far in this year’s championship to have been played in Croke Park. That statistic may not be welcome reading for Mayo but recent history has shown that it means nothing when it comes to All-Ireland semifinals.
Dublin has reached five semifinals in the last decade and won just one, last year’s game against Donegal. Mayo, in fact, has a much better record than the ‘home’ team at this stage of the competition. They have gone on to reach the All-Ireland final on three out of the last five times they made it to the semi final, including that thrilling comeback against Dublin in 2006.
Croke Park may be home for Dublin but that is cold comfort when set against their recent honours list.