The Tailteann Cup could have been much more than an afterthought
The long-awaited launch of the Tailteann Cup arrived last week. For me it was severely underwhelming, and attracted very little publicity. Even the GAA’s own website could hardly be said to have given it a massive blast. Details are somewhat sketchy. The bigger picture is clear: The semi-finals are in Croke Park and the final is on the undercard of an All-Ireland semi-final with live TV for those games.
But if you drill down a bit you you won’t find any oil. There will be an All Star scheme or a Champions team or whatever it is to be called. Who is picking this team? The main GAA journalists will be occupied covering the big games in hurling and football, so they’ll hardly have time to give it much attention. This weekend there are games being played without anyone watching with a long-term view of the players involved, unless there is some secret committee set up that nobody knows about.
The right thing would have been to enlist five or six good people from various counties to act as selectors. There are plenty who would fit the bill and who would take it on for grub wages because they believe in the concept of an egalitarian GAA with the weak being just as important as the strong. I’m thinking of people like Mickey Moran, Jim Gavin, Malachy O’Rourke, Seán Boylan, Kevin McStay, Tom Parsons, Joe Kernan, Peter Keane, Éamonn Fitzmaurice, Kevin Walsh, Brian McEniff and Billy Morgan.
The list is endless of those with a lifelong commitment to the GAA, who have years of experience of playing and managing and who would quite likely be every enthusiastic in supporting the Tailteann Cup. Imagine the boost the competition would get if some or all of these or others of similar standing turned up at the press conference and announced they were keen to see as many of the teams playing as possible.
There is supposed to be a team of the week. Who is picking that? Again a named group of these people could take ownership of that and make it into a big thing.
Last Monday, a representative from most of the counties involved turned up at Croke Park for the launch. That part was impressive, but the publicity which flowed from it was minimal. It looked as if the GAA announced the gig and expected the fourth estate to gather in their droves with pens at the ready to publicise this noble competition. It did not turn out that way.
This was a case of build it and they will come. That worked in the field of dreams but the newspaper men and women who are toiling hard on GAA matters need to have the odd day off too. Often it is Monday, so if you were busy looking in the national papers to have all your questions about the Tailteann Cup answered, then you were disappointed. There was very little about it.
The GAA at central level need to be a bit more humble in their dealings and occasionally ask for help. If they wanted to promote this competition properly they could have invited all the sports editors of the papers, radio and TV stations to a private audience to ask for their help in promoting the Tailteann Cup. Chances are they would have got universal support.
The public announcement also came with a promise of funds towards a holiday for the winners. I have not seen a figure on this. Is it €10,000 or €50,000. Is the holiday to Blackpool or the Bahamas? Could a bolder step not have been taken? Play the final in New York. That would solve the issue straightaway and every player and county would be on board.
Instead, these players and counties have had to buy a pig in a poke. The details of the competition should have been well advertised in advance. Of course, the important people who make the big decisions will argue that there was no point in promoting something when you did not know what teams would be involved. Did anyone think that Wicklow or Wexford or Waterford would be playing in anything other than the Tailteann Cup?
It would have suited team managers perfectly to have been able to say to lads after an early championship loss to their team, stick together and give this new secondary competition a right lash. It might have been enough to have ensured some of the students would not be thinking of the American shuttle for the summer. And if the GAA were moving quickly enough they would have lined up a good sponsor to help pay the tab and promote the whole thing. Look at what the LGFA have done very successfully with Lidl. The ladies were not sitting back hoping that it would work, they seized the moment and just look at the result of proper promotion.
This is not being wise after the event. In the early part of this year I was consistently writing about the need to really roll out the Tailteann Cup as a big event. Instead there is a bit of ‘make it up as you go along’ feel to it.
For the last few months I have expressed concern that if they didn’t make a big thing of the Tailteann Cup, then it would become the Tommy Murphy Cup lite and counties would take it or leave it. After a few years of the Tommy Murphy it was very much leave it. A big sponsor, a dedicated group of selectors, details of holiday arrangements and a proper launch would have signalled that this was different.
Despite the misgivings, I hope that this competition is a success. The weak need far more help than the strong and the GAA at central level has failed these counties for too long. This is a more important competition than the Sam Maguire and it is great that at least four of these teams will get to play in Croke Park in the summer.
For the vast majority of players it will be for the first time and I have advocated for years that every county should get at least one league game in Croke Park every year. It is the dream of every young player to play in Croke Park and it should not be denied to so many by virtue of their address. The big field belongs to all. Hopefully the Tailteann Cup will bring that dream closer to reality for those who prop up the GAA without recognition or reward.