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Ciarán Murphy: Imagination required from GAA and TV companies for Tailteann Cup

Friday night football in high summer would be the perfect time to showcase new cup

Last Saturday, a GAA special congress which generated a modest-sized data centre’s worth of online discussion and argument decided in the end that we had so much fun debating it for the last month, we should go right ahead and debate it all over again for another few months between now and next February.

The GAA may not be a world leader when it comes to making big decisions, but when it comes to facilitating idle talk, it has no peer in global sport.

But change is coming regardless in 2022. For a start, there will be no Super 8s, jettisoned at the exact moment when it might actually have come into its own. In any case, it exits stage left, with no one to mourn it.

It's not enough to say that the Tailteann Cup is going to be a success if the teams commit to it, the GAA has to commit to it too

Next year will also see the first ever playing of the Tailteann Cup, and after all the energy expended on option B, it seems like the arrival of a brand new competition for the exact cohort of teams many people claimed to be advocating for over the last few weeks should be ... a pretty big deal?


We will have another four months of fevered speculation between now and next year’s congress to see what changes can be made to option B to make it amenable to the 49.4 per cent of people who voted against change last weekend, but half the teams in the country will still be preparing for a brand new competition this winter.

We should probably be asking ourselves what we can do to help them right now. In the time it takes congress to make final decisions of this magnitude, players’ entire careers will come and go.

It would be helpful if the GAA’s plans to make a success of the Tailteann Cup were announced without delay.

arry McCarthy and former present John Horan after Motion 19 is defeated. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Any restructuring that may or may not occur at congress in February 2022 will surely include a tiered championship, so let’s forget the idea that the Tailteann Cup is going anywhere. It will be around for a while in one guise or another, so we might as well get stuck into making it a success.

It’s not enough to say that the Tailteann Cup is going to be a success if the teams commit to it, the GAA has to commit to it too. That commitment has to start now, particularly given the intense disappointment that counties like Sligo and Leitrim, whose delegates spoke so powerfully in favour of option B on Saturday, must be feeling.

A lot of people spoke up for a revamped championship over the last few weeks. I don't doubt the sincerity of the vast majority of them

There are three things that could happen immediately – sponsorship (with that money obviously pooled specifically for the teams involved), the announcement of an All-Star scheme to recognise performances in Division 3 and 4 of the league and the Tailteann Cup, and a broadcast deal.

If, like me, you were in front of your television set last Saturday afternoon, watching Mayo senior football quarter-finals broadcast live on RTÉ2 from somewhere in the Arctic Circle, played on a pitch over which loomed a recently-landed alien spacecraft (actually the Connacht GAA Centre of Excellence in Bekan, outside Ballyhaunis), then you would raise a eyebrow to any suggestion that there isn’t a market for live televised coverage of the Tailteann Cup.

So where’s the plan? Is there going to be Friday night football next summer? If county under-21 teams can play on Wednesday evenings in high summer, if club championship games can happen in Tyrone and Down on a week night (as happened earlier this month, at the start of an Irish winter), then surely intercounty panels can make Friday night football work in high summer.

Give the Tailteann Cup a specified time in the television schedules, and people will watch. Television is not a panacea, but, as we saw last week with the Leitrim county final, it confers meaning and importance to counties that can often feel neglected and underestimated. Rightly or wrongly, that’s the case.

It shouldn’t just fall to RTÉ2 and TG4 either. There is a new broadcast deal for the GAA being negotiated right now. The Tailteann Cup is a new competition, so it should be seen as completely separate to any deal being struck for the Sam Maguire championship.

If Virgin Media want a cost-effective ‘in’ to the GAA, then the Tailteann Cup offers the perfect platform. All that’s required is a little imagination to be shown by the GAA and the TV companies.

A lot of people spoke up for a revamped championship over the last few weeks. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the vast majority of them. Some nixed option B out of shameless self-interest, like Galway and Mayo, who were so terminally afraid of finishing 6th in Division 1, and therefore missing out on knock-out football, that they reckoned the rest of the country could go hang.

Maybe asking people to vote out of anything other than self-interest is pure idealism. But we’ve already voted for change with the arrival of the Tailteann Cup, so let’s make sure that with all the energy floating around ahead of Congress next spring, that we divert some of that into making the change that’s already coming a success.