‘It is not the size of the dog in the fight; but the size of the fight in the dog that counts.’ ‘There are good goods in small parcels’, etc … etc …
Life does not dish out all its benefits in equal measure – but is it not remarkable how the playing pitch can be levelled by human effort? I use the metaphor of the ‘level playing pitch’, because this article looks at how some counties deal with overcoming numerical inequality and create a ‘level playing pitch’ for themselves. It’s about numbers, sporting representation and accidents of birth.
I was listening to the news the other morning, about the lifting of the lockdown in County Kildare. It was mentioned in passing the Kildare has a population of 250,000. Now isn’t that a big pick to choose a team from in a football mad county? Why then have ‘The Lilly Whites’ not won an All-Ireland in well-nigh a hundred years?
Louth is the smallest county in Ireland and has half the population of Kildare. Yet, ‘The Wee County’ won an All-Ireland in 1957 – and only for cynical opposition and dreadful refereeing would have added another ‘provincial’ in 2010.
No need to tell any of you, with even a passing interest in sport, that Dublin dominates football for the past decade. With a population of one and a half million, why wouldn’t they, you might ask: But it is worth mentioning (for me anyway!) that in the year of 2004, my own county of Westmeath (P. 88,000) knocked Dublin out of the Leinster championship!
Kerry is by far the most successful football county, although it has only half the population of Kildare. I always introduce my friend, Seamus MacGearailt, as ‘the Kerryman with the inferior complex – because he only has two All-Ireland medals! For good measure, Kerry also won an All-Ireland hurling title in 1891.
Kilkenny has less than a hundred thousand inhabitants. Babies born in another county may grope for a nipple or a rattler; but the first thing a baby born in ‘The Marble County’ will search for is the handle of a hurley. Kilkenny by far tops the hurling roll of honour; followed by Cork – but Cork has five times the population of Kilkenny. Tipperary ‘The home of Hurling’ (P, 160,000) is a close third.
Offaly has to rank as the greatest example of ‘good goods in small parcels’. I am old enough to remember when ‘The Faithful County’ had not won even one provincial championship in either code. But over the past sixty years, Offaly has thrilled themselves and the nation by winning seven All-Ireland titles; four in hurling and three in football. Not bad for a county with a mere 78,000 souls!
Monaghan with a population of just over 60,000, punches well above its weight on the football field. No All-Ireland yet, but ‘The Drumlin County’ can boast a national league title to go with its Ulster Championship wins.
Galway has the same population as Kildare, but its GAA teams grace the field with flair, determination and much success. For me, the greatest sight in sport is to watch Galway hurlers in full flight. ‘The Tribesmen’ have a combined total of thirteen All-Ireland victories.
Mayo ‘God help us!’ again, with half the population of Kildare, is mine and most other fan’s favourite second team. Mayo had a bagful of All-Irelands in the bag – but only closed on three. Roscommon, with a population of just 65,000, has won two All-Ireland titles and have shown on many occasions how to be ‘the size of the fight in the dog.’
Tyrone and Armagh have population bases close to the two hundred thousand mark; but it has to be acknowledged that they have made good use of their resources in recent years; as has Donegal, with a few less subs.
Sligo, Fermanagh, Carlow and Longford all have serious numerical disadvantages, but this never stops them from being ‘the fight in the dog’ in every year’s championship.
If I have failed to mention your county (every county which fields a team is special in some way) please forgive me. You get the ‘jist’ of my point that life isn’t fair on ‘the level playing field.’
I have left the greatest example of the battling dog until last. Leitrim has a population of just over 30,000 proud and hard-working sons of the soil. This number is similar to a fair-sized country town. In 1992 Leitrim won its second Connaught football title. Not only that, but on their journey to the title, they knocked out three giants of the province; Galway, Mayo and Roscommon!
Let this be the example to one and all as we (hopefully!) head into this year’s championships…
Sometimes we get so worked up over sport we almost wish it was only a game!