The money have helped the Dubs but Stephen Cluxton's dedication and work ethic, long before they ever won an All-Ireland, are a microcosm of the entire Dublin regime, writes Michael Hannon.
Poor old Dublin. You’ve got to feel sorry for them. They’ve just won their fourth All-Ireland in-a-row, are already odds on to win their fifth next year, but nobody wants to give them any credit because of all that money. It is, after all, the only reason they won all those titles, right?
Being financed to the tune of ten times the amount of most other counties per registered player makes it hard for the rest of the country, and Leinster counties in particular, to ignore the historical inequity and impact of the distribution of GAA finances.
Ciaran Whelan and Alan Brogan came out swinging hard in their respective national columns for the Irish Independent and The Herald last week. The money has nothing to do with Dublin’s current dominance was the synopsis of their view point.
I feel you can get a real sense of how they believe the greatness of this Dublin side is not being fully recognised because people are pointing out Dublin’s (a) population advantage and (b) financial and commercial advantage.
The question is this: can this Dublin side truly be considered great when all the cards are stacked in their favour? I don’t see why not even if I can understand why some people will begrudgingly recognise their achievements.
Did the money make them great? No. Did it help? Of course. I cringed a little when I read the headline for Whelan’s article in the Independent; 'The truth might be hard to take for some, But there’s No link between Dublin's success and Money' screamed the banner.
I cringed because as a columnist I know that Whelan wouldn’t have written that headline. Was he really reducing the funding issue into such black and white terms?
Then I read the article and cringed again because it was clearly written with his Dublin hat, scarf and headband draped all over him. The history of sport is one where individuals and teams who are financially backed tend to see an upswing in performance. You only have to look at the Olympic medal table to see that there is a very strong correlation between success in sport and money invested.
Do we question the greatness of anyone who wins an Olympic boxing medal just because they have been financed and given the opportunity to work with the High Performance unit now located in Abbotstown? Of course not, we know that in sport what you get is earned, but we can also accept that the money played a crucial role.
This seems to me to be a problem for Dublin supporters, past players, and as per Stephen Cluxton's acceptance speech in Croke Park, a gripe with the captain and current squad.
I really don’t see why they have to concern themselves with this at all. Cluxton is the greatest player of the last 15 years. No other player in the history of Gaelic football has changed the way the game is played as much as the Parnells man has with his kick-out strategy.
Now, here's a tale which may change your thinking on Cluxton and his team-mates 'buying' All-Irelands. As a 19-year-old in DCU and a member of the Cavan senior panel, I had access to the elite gym on the campus, so I popped in one day to lift a few weights.
I was a rookie in the weight room and while we’d been told to follow a certain strength programme by the Cavan management, we hadn’t been given adequate technical instruction to be proficient in the lifts. I really didn’t know what I was doing.
Cluxton was in his first year in the college having transferred in from another third level institute. He walked into the gym and went straight to the squat bar right beside me. He loaded the bar and started performing an exercise I’d never seen before.
YouTube, you’ve got to remember, was still four years away from being invented so if you were doing some fancy exercise it meant someone had to have coached you, or else you educated yourself. I looked around the gym and most of the people inside the place were like me, a little lost, and sticking to doing pretty basic pushing and pulling movements. Cluxton, though, clearly knew what he was at.
I waited until he had finished his set and walked the three metres over to him and asked him what the exercise he was doing was called. It was a hang clean, he told me, the middle part of an Olympic lift, and he was doing it for explosive power.
Since, in my view, he was the only person in the place who knew what he was doing, I asked him did he lift weights often. Every day, he told me. Days he trained, he’d lift for 25 minutes. Days he didn't, he would lift for longer.
When did he start lifting weights? He started when he was 15 years old, he told me.
By now, I could sense he wanted to get back to his routine so with that I dropped my line of questioning and walked back to the squat rack I was at and grabbed my things. I wasn’t going to stand next to an expert and injure myself when I clearly didn’t know what the hell I was doing, yet I had many more questions I wanted answered.
I walked out of the gym and across the campus heading straight for the sports science building. I arrived at Prof. Niall Moyna's office and knocked on the door. It was early in the academic year so I’d only trained with Cluxton maybe twice at that stage but I remember being shocked when he stepped into goals.
We’d been doing sprints and he’d been leading the way. "This guys a goalkeeper?" I thought to myself, "that doesn’t make any sense, surely he should be playing corner forward?"
Moyna was managing the Sigerson team and he shouted through the door to come in. I was only in the door and I blurted out what was on my mind.
“I want to get faster,” I said.
He looked at me curiously and said “but you’re fast enough already?” to which I replied, “but I want to get even faster.” I’m sure he was thinking there was a screw loose somewhere upstairs but in fairness to him he pointed me in the right direction.
“Well then, Michael," he replied, "you’ve got to get stronger and you’ve got to stay mobile.”
This was the confirmation I needed. I left his office, walked the short distance over to the library and found the sports science section and the books on weight training for speed and acceleration development. To my despair, they were in the short-term section and couldn’t be checked out.
That was how I spent my entire semester's worth of photocopying money copying pages and pages which I wanted to read. Two and a half hours later, I left the library and as I crossed the campus in the dark, who did I see walking with his gym bag on his back?
You've guessed it, Stephen Cluxton, fresh from his work-out. Now, here’s the thing - Cluxton was only just on the Dublin senior panel at that time, he might not even have played a game for the first team yet, but even then I could recognise his work ethic meant he was already well down the road to greatness. To be honest, it even lit a fire in me that day.
The important aspect of this is that the funding Dublin received in the mid-noughties had nothing to do with what Cluxton was doing that day and many others.
He would lose four All-Ireland semi-finals by a point before winning one in 2011. Since 2011, AIG has funded the county to the tune of €1m a year. Has that money helped the senior side win five out of seven All-Ireland semi-finals since? Of course it has. Does it make Cluxton and a host of his team mates any less great? No.
Whelan, Brogan, Cluxton and everyone else involved in Dublin GAA should just enjoy these days while they can. Maybe there's a revolution coming, maybe the capital will be split into two, or four, or maybe the rest of the country will be super-financed to make the All-Ireland series more competitive. Who knows?
Regardless, none of that needs to concern them; history will be kind to Cluxton and this side. They can rest easy over the winter. Only, as I know, it’s not in their nature.