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Meath and Louth still searching for sponsorship deals

BOTH Meath and Louth's footballers will open their season this weekend without new sponsors.

Louth are understood to be very close to announcing a new backer but Meath, despite reaching last year's All-Ireland semi-finals, still don't have one, just three weeks away from the start of the National League.

Not only has the economic slump increased the number of players travelling abroad in search of work, but sponsorships, at club and county level, have also been affected by the recession.

Dublin footballers, the most high-profile team in the country, lost long-time sponsors Arnotts last autumn. And while they are one of the few counties in the country still capable of creating a bidding war -- several of the big phone companies are believed to have battled for their rights -- the finer details of their expected new deal with Vodafone have still to be finalised.

That means Pat Gilroy's men are set to open their season against Wexford on Sunday with no sponsor on their jerseys, a most unusual situation for one of the attractive sports products in Irish sport, let alone the GAA.

Meath and Louth will both have a sponsor's name on their kit when they play against Longford and Wicklow respectively in Sunday's O'Byrne Cup openers. But those names -- Menolly Homes and McCabe Builders -- were their sponsors last year and both have since terminated their contracts.

However, the relationship between both counties and their previous backers is such that they can continue to use their old jerseys while seeking new sponsors.

That, at the very least, saves them having to fork out for new interim kit while chasing sponsorship in time for the start of the NFL on February 6/7, something that is now a matter of urgency.

Louth sources appear confident that they will have a new sponsor in place for the start of the NFL but officials have already admitted that their asking price was lower than previous because of the economic climate.

Meath have been on the lookout for new sponsors since the Menolly Group announced, on the eve of county convention, that they would not be seeing out the final two years of their three-year deal.

Though not currently at the height of their previous powers, the Royals, significantly, reached the All-Ireland semi-finals twice in the past three years and they inevitably attract a lot of media coverage. Menolly replaced Meath's long-time backers Kepak as sponsors in 2005.

Contrary to pre-Christmas rumours, Tyrone's big local sponsors Rocwell are backing them in what is the final year of their current deal. And several other counties have successfully managed to replace their outgoing sponsors.

Waterford, whose hurlers have one of the highest profiles in the country, have just signed a deal with mobile phone company '3'.

And though Laois and Wicklow's footballers also lost sponsors last winter they have since replaced them with MW Hire Services and Brennan Hotels respectively.

Irish Independent