Ewan MacKenna: The GAA World’s equivalent of a ‘Flat Earther’

Ewan MacKenna’s conspiracy theories as to how the Dublin footballers have achieved their incredible run of four All-Irelands in a row are so absurd that they must be considered in the same bracket as those who propose the earth is flat.

To understand the driving factor behind the creation of such conspiracy theories, we first need to need to examine the proposer’s historic profile and background views in relation to the subject matter.

Like many modern-day trolls, MacKenna spends much of his time on Twitter. And it is here that his true character comes to the fore regarding Dublin GAA and their fans. Up to recently, I had ‘followed’ him for quite some time. What may surprise some is that most of his Dublin related tweets over several years have not been funding related. They have included a wide ranging, but predominantly insulting, concoction of comments, retweets and likes spanning everything from ‘bandwagoner’ labelling to intelligence mocking and any degrading generalisation in between.

The latest chapter in this bizarre hate-fuelled obsession is a mission to discredit everything Dublin have achieved under Jim Gavin, disguised as concerns for the GAA and supported only by those who wish to wallow in his bitterness. The hate is so strong that it is likely he thinks about Dublin more than the average fan, which is quite ironic.

However, where a line was really crossed was in the liking of a tweet which celebrated and mocked the stabbing of Dublin defender Jonny Cooper. A truly disgusting act which, rather than be condemned, was ‘liked’ by somebody in the media who still has the audacity to claim to write independently. Recently ex-Dublin footballer Vinnie Murphy correctly questioned how this act did not deter national media outlets from continuing to work with MacKenna and being associated with such venom (FAO Vinnie: Ewan this week boasted about coming from a family of journalists. Draw your own conclusions).

The subsequent claim it was a ‘slip of the thumb’ was nothing more than a realisation of potential PR consequences. Given his propensity to ‘like’ all things Dublin-bashing on social media, the high percentage of his 62,000 tweets being devoted to hating Dublin and all other impartial evidence, it appears extremely unlikely to be a mistake. There wasn’t even a hint of an apology (some PR advice from Jamie Carragher and Sky Sports here wouldn’t go astray).

As this profile is built up, it quickly becomes apparent that this is the last person in the world any reasonable being would ask to comment on Dublin GAA. Nothing he expresses on the subject has the slightest credibility because it is viewed through a prism of prejudice, bereft of all objectivity and integrity. But, how and ever, let’s continue with the charade.

In an attempt to validate his false outrage, MacKenna persists with a statistic that over the last ten years Dublin have received €16m in funding towards games development while Cork, the next in line, have received €1.1m. The problem with this claim is that it gives zero context. The new Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium in Cork is a tremendous asset. It is, by far, the largest and most impressive stadium in Ireland owned by a county board and a fantastic tool in games development throughout the county. Cork received €30m directly from the GAA towards its’ construction. That’s double the direct GAA funding compared to Dublin in the same period – stick that on a pie chart.

When Mayo struggled with repayments due on McHale Park in 2015, the GAA stepped in with €10m to ease the pain. Another interesting point here is that during 2016 the Mayo County board officially spent more than any other county board in the country.

Contrary to popular belief, Dublin is one of the only counties in Ireland not to benefit from having a dedicated GAA centre of excellence. These top-class facilities in counties around the country have come at a cost of millions (Tyrone’s, to give one example, came in at €8m in 2013) and receive significant funding contributions directly from the GAA. You won’t see these stats in any of MacKenna’s “research”, or in notional figures whereby random numbers are divided by player participants to give extremely dubious calculations. To give the full picture would contradict his intentionally misleading assumptions. No wonder RTE panellist Joe Brolly the other day called him out on his “bullshit” (Brolly’s words, appropriately used).

Tyrone GAA Centre of Excellence
Tyrone’s state of the art GAA Centre of Excellence in Garvaghey

Let’s look at some realities for Dublin. Recently Dublin GAA-owned gym equipment that was shared in Abbotstown had to be moved. The team were told they could only have access to it during very restricted hours, despite owning it and transporting it there themselves. This resulted in the equipment being brought back to Parnell Park and squeezed into a room for use.

The Dublin team are not immune to such issues in the same way any other amateur team in the country are not. Nor do they receive meals to their door, another lie created by somebody which was rubbished by Kevin McManomon since the final. They also occasionally train in DCU, which is a very nice gym but that’s all it is – a gym. It does not contain magic machines unavailable elsewhere and, by the way, it’s open to the public.

Dublin County Board decided around 20 years ago to split all resources for hurling and football right down the middle including any coaching related initiatives. In that time the hurlers have won a single Leinster championship because tradition isn’t as strong as football (despite having 6 All-Ireland hurling titles to their name). The lack of small ball achievement in Dublin makes a complete mockery of the idea that certain structures guarantee success.

Following the conspiracy theorists’ logic, Dublin’s minors, more than any age group, should automatically be the most dominance force in the country. Unfortunately for the tinfoil hat brigade, Kerry’s 5-in-a-row All-Ireland football dominance coupled with Dublin’s lack of hurling All-Irelands and 6 Leinsters in 20 years once again rubbishes their ideas.

Some economic realities need to be looked at regarding funding and population in the capital, and the associated false assumptions. The influx of tech giants and other industry players into the area is great for the economy and the country in general. Nobody in Dublin is bemoaning the introduction of business talent recruited internationally and from around Ireland that these companies bring, but they massively skew the figures when it comes to population available for GAA. There are still areas across the capital who barely know GAA exists and live in culturally different parallel communities.

Cork has a population of well over half a million people to choose their GAA teams from. It is not as diverse as Dublin and as a result there are more registered GAA clubs in Cork than in Dublin. But never will you hear somebody mention population if Cork beat Kerry (over 100,000) or Kilkenny (around 90,000).

Astronomical property prices in Dublin have led to Dublin GAA’s Annual report in the last few years documenting concerns over playing pitch losses at St. Pauls in Raheny and Clonkeen College in south Dublin. Na Fianna in Glasnevin very nearly lost their ground but for the intervention of the local GAA community. A growing trend has resulted in so many traditional city centre GAA clubs being forced out of their routes towards the suburbs. And unfortunately, new playing areas in Dublin cost money, substantially more money than anywhere else in the country – this is a simple fact and how it can be disregarded by somebody who writes for an Irish business publication is mind boggling.

It’s important to be aware that, ultimately, these false concerns are all a smokescreen. They are an attempt to divert the conversation away from the brilliance of what has been achieved by Jim Gavin and his Dublin team and committed voluntary background staff of ex-players. The achievements represent a sporting reality that are too much to handle for the likes of MacKenna. Their habitual hatred of the team has become so hard-wired that their brain cannot compute the truth, nor could they stomach any level of attempted acceptance. The automated reaction is: deny, deny, deny, clutch at straws.

The most painful part of Dublin winning for the haters is that this current crop are steeped in history. Their brilliance stems from the desire to carry on Dublin’s proud attacking traditions laid down by Kevin Heffernan. From this year’s team, Jack McCaffrey, Dean Rock, James McCarthy, Bernard Brogan (plus previously Alan) and Kevin McManamon are all sons of ex-Dublin players. They are carrying the torch for Dublin football and following in their fathers’ footsteps.

McCaffrey and Father
Jack McCaffrey embraces Father, Noel moments after the 2018 All-Ireland final

Dessie Farrell, a legendary Dublin footballer during the late 80’s and 90’s, coached five of the current team while at U21 level – Paul Mannion, John Small, Brian Fenton, Ciaran Kilkenny and Jack McCaffrey (who’s father was also part of the coaching team). Proud traditions passed on to the next generation. Jim Gavin himself, another stalwart from the ’95 winning team, has spent countless hours since his playing days volunteering as a coach at his club and subsequently as the Dublin U21 manager, which is why he places such trust in youth. The culmination of these huge voluntary commitments given through sheer love of the game and their county is what has led to success.

The notion that the Dublin team were somehow manufactured by paying for some expert coaches is preposterous at best and downright embarrassing at worst for those presenting it. This group of players and management are the experts. Following their blueprint makes sense for other counties – Rory Beggan and Niall Morgan are already improving the general standard of goalkeeping by modelling themselves on Stephen Cluxton.

Cluxton Gavin
Stephen Cluxton and Jim Gavin take a rare moment to enjoy their achievements

Following the rhetoric of MacKenna’s defeatist attitude, who has seemingly no interest in the sport beyond this obsession, would have the potential to drive GAA into the doldrums further than any individual policy. I can’t think of a worse message to send out to youngsters than telling them to give up.

The winning mentality, of course, earned only from getting over the line when it counts, is in Dublin’s favour. But practice costs nothing. Ciarán Kilkenny, Alan and Bernard Brogan spending hours at their local pitch honing the most attractive skills of the game did not set them back a penny. The actual difference that the supposed advantages make, when all factors and other counties’ situations are considered, towards Dublin winning the All-Ireland is so minute that it is unworthy of mention. MacKenna and co continue to display an incredibly high level of sporting ignorance or, more to the point, voluntary ignorance when banging the same pitiful drum.

Just as anyone with half a scientific brain knows the earth is round, anyone with half a GAA brain knows that Dublin’s All-Ireland victories were achieved through nothing but hard work, dedication, commitment, skill and desire.

All other counties have absolutely everything tangible at their disposal that Dublin do. For the last four years they just haven’t had enough of the intangible qualities that make our amateur sport so great, nor have they had the genius of Jim Gavin. The Dubegrudgers, as they were so accurately described, are falling all over themselves to latch on to any piece of paltry evidence to deny this undeniable truth.

There is a powerful marketing message currently seeking to trigger the word “Trivago” and associate it with “Hotel”. A less reputable and less relevant name is unwittingly generating a similarly instant connotation among GAA followers; “Ewan MacKenna – Flat Earther”.



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