This Saturday Anthony Daly’s resurgent Dublin hurlers travel south to Wexford Park, HOME of Liam Dunne’s recently, highly impressive youthful Wexford Team.
For the second week in a row, the SKY cameras will beam images of this ancient Irish game into the homes of millions of British sports fans who, like much of the Offaly team it would appear, had never seen a sliothar and hurl let alone full match before last Saturday.
The SKY debate will rumble on and if Twitter reports during the week are anything to go by, our near neighbours will remain both enthralled and bemused in equal measures as the summer strides on.
You can’t help noticing however that the arrival of SKY is the latest in a growing line of innovations the GAA have borrowed from so called ‘foreign games’ in recent years. Red & Yellow cards and side-line restriction technical areas for Managers to name but two others.
In similar vein the concept of home advantage is a phenomenon eagerly peeping its nose around the Gaelic Games front door. There is no doubt that 2013 was a hugely exciting year for our national games and amid this exhilaration one amazing fact has sauntered through largely unnoticed. All provincial champions, namely Dublin and Limerick in hurling and Footballs Mayo, Monaghan, Kerry & Dublin all secured their crowns on home soil.
It has long been accepted, if not quite fully understood that teams do hold an advantage if playing at home particularly in other sports. The twentieth FIFA World Cup kicks off this week. In the previous nineteen competitions 8 of the finals were contested by the host country with six of those emerging victorious. In Rugby’s relatively younger tournament of the same name, the host country have made the final on 5 of the 7 occasions winning three. Eighteen times in the 23 years of the English Premier league’s existence has a team gone through a season unbeaten at home. Individual sports also are not immune to this trend. Recent Olympic Games are testament to this. The 1992 Barcelona games saw Spain take 22 medals an improvement from the 4 they won at the previous Seoul games. Australia’s largest medal haul was achieved in Sydney in 2000 while China were on the podium 100 times in Beijing in 2008, 37 more times than they were four years previously. Our British friends also have benefited enjoying in 2012 their most successful Olympics since 1908, incidentally also held in London.
Far more learned men than I have studied this subject and have observed some factors as to why such advantage may be enjoyed while playing at home.
Apparently biased refereeing decisions – It often stated that Man United would need Lee Harvey Oswald himself playing at right back before they would concede a penalty at Old Trafford.
Partisan home crowds – Generally home supporters outnumber their travelling counterparts, who are often fenced away in the far reaches of the stadium, by several multiples, which serves to intimidate the aforementioned officials and visiting players alike. Turkish football side Galatasaray pride themselves on their Welcome to Hell hospitality which would make even old Lucifer himself rethink his invitation to the ground.
Surroundings Familiarity/Travel fatigue – it has been determined that players operate more effectively in locations in which they recognise and are comfortable in. It is fabled that the lockers in the away dressing room at Stamford Bridge are located at ground level so the players therein need to crouch into a subconsciously submissive position to put away their valuables before a ball is even kicked.
Defence of Home territory – Psychologists believe there is an evolutionary ingrained response within each one of us to defend our own territorial boundaries against intruders which leads to a rise in aggression among home teams. Paul O’Connell in Thomond being a case in point.
So given the above, is this actually a factor in Gaelic Games.
Well GAA referees are a much maligned species but is it fair to say they are biased? How often has it been remarked that the poor fellow was as bad for one side as he was for the other?
And while the Wexford soil produces the world’s best strawberries, does it really generate a different type of grass than Parnell Park?
Granted, the Dubs have not had much occasion to travel beyond the Pale in recent times but one can’t imagine the N11, despite the current road works will pose much difficulty.
I have no doubt that in both dressing rooms on Saturday evening the aggression and determination will be palpable but who am I to suggest that Liam Dunne’s Testosterone levels will surpass those of Mr Daly.
Indeed the only conclusion one can draw is that while the crowd from the Capital will travel to support their reigning champions in their droves it is dutiful on all available Wexford fans to ensure that the advantage remains at HOME and our guests make their journey back through the Wicklow wilds with little more than a punnet of our famous soft fruit as a memento of their trip.