IN a deal believed to be worth about €2m over three years, Liberty Insurance is set to become the newest sponsor of the All-Ireland hurling championship after Guinness ended its 18-year association.
The GAA and Guinness appear to have pre-empted expected changes in alcohol sponsorship of sporting events by calling time on their hurling deal – which proved to be a hugely successful partnership for both parties.
But the GAA has stressed that the famous brewer is staying on board in another sponsorship capacity.
They said this will involve Guinness continuing as a "proud partner" of both the GAA and Croke Park stadium, saying this will create "new business and marketing collaborations" and its parent company Diageo already holds the 'pouring rights' to the bars in Croke Park.
Guinness initially came on board in 1995 as the hurling championship's main title sponsor and, since 2008, has been one of three joint sponsors alongside Centra and Etihad Airways.
The timing of this mid-season move occurs while the Government is debating alcohol sponsorship of sporting events, with the prospect of a ban becoming more likely.
Last March, GAA director general Paraic Duffy was part of a joint submission to an Oireachtas committee by Irish sport's 'big three' (GAA, FAI, IRFU), who all argued that there was no proof of a link between the country's alcohol-related problems and sponsorship in sport.
But industry sources say that Guinness' unbroken involvement, since 1995, was an exceptionally long sports sponsorship that had probably run its natural course anyway.
The company invested heavily in some dazzling advertisement campaigns that created iconic images and memorable catch-phrases such as 'Not Men but Giants'.
When its sponsorship came up for renewal this season Guinness only signed up for a single year, reportedly for €1.5m.
Etihad and Centra will continue as hurling championship sponsors and it is believed that Liberty Insurance – the company that took over the troubled Quinn Insurance company – has been lined up to replace the famous drinks brand.