Tailteann Cup Q&A:

GAA president has high hopes for new competition

GAA president Larry McCarthy was certainly audacious when hoping the Tailteann Cup “takes off like a meteorite”, if perhaps somewhat mixing up the metaphor, given the meteorite is more likely to crash and burn.

The intention however is clear: the GAA are determined to make a success of the Tailteann Cup, which begins this weekend and concludes with the final in Croke Park on July 9th. Exactly how well it takes off remains to be seen.

What’s it all about?

The new second-tier football championship, a sort of revival of the All-Ireland B Championship, or the Tommy Murphy Cup, both of which have been since laid to rest. It consists of the 16 Division Three and Four teams from the National League, plus New York; had any of those teams made their provincial final they would gone into the All-Ireland series.

What’s it named after?

The Tailteann Games, the ancient Irish sporting festival once celebrated each summer, which some scholars reckon was first staged near Tara in 1829 BC, long before Greece got their idea for an Olympic Games.


Who’s in contention this year?

The draw for the preliminary and first round games took place on Monday morning, which like the quarter-finals are organised on a geographical basis with Northern and Southern Sections, aimed at enhancing local rivalries, and also reducing travel costs for teams and supporters.

In the Southern Section, the preliminary Round (May 21st/22nd) sees Wexford v Offaly, Wicklow v Waterford; Round 1: (May 28th/29th): Wexford/Offaly v Wicklow/Waterford; Carlow v Tipperary; Laois v Westmeath.

In the Northern Section, Round 1(May 28th/29th) sees Longford v Fermanagh; Leitrim v Antrim, Sligo v London; Cavan v Down.

The quarter-finals, (June 4th/5th) will consist of the winners Round 1, along with New York, who will play their game in Ireland, and their opposition will have home advantage.

The winners of the four pairings shall qualify for the semi-finals on June 19th - those games to be played in isolation on the GAA calendar to maximise publicity and exposure. The final then takes place on July 9th, the GAA so far resisting the suggestion it should be play the final before the All-Ireland senior showdown.

Why did New York get a bye?

On financial grounds, reportedly, given the cost of travel for more than one game if required.

What’s the big incentive?

The big prize for the winner – as well as the new Tailteann Cup itself – is the guarantee of a place in the All-Ireland series for 2023. Financial assistance will be also made available to the winning county towards a team holiday, and a Champions 15 will be selected to honour the best 15 players from the competition. In addition to both the final and semi-finals being broadcast live on RTÉ, GAAGO will stream a preliminary round game, a Round One game and two quarter-final games.

GAANOW will produce in-game digital clips from televised Tailteann Cup games and a Monday round up package of the competition’s weekend action will also be distributed on GAA.ie and official GAA social channels. Tailteann Cup action will also feature on RTÉ’s Sunday Game programme and TG4’s Monday highlights show.

Is the format here to stay?

No, like the All-Ireland series, the competition from 2023 will be played in a round-robin format, divided into two 16-team competitions, with four round-robin groups of four, three games each.

The winners of those groups will automatically qualify for Tailteann Cup quarter-finals. Again, however, one preliminary quarter-final is reserved for New York. Together that means from 60 games this year, there will be 99 next year, more or less played within the same time frame.

So will it work?

Already there's some interesting games, favourites Cavan hosting Down, while London will visit Leitrim, fancying their chances. Wexford were also drawn against Offaly, a repeat of their Leinster clash which Wexford won, while Westmeath and Laois face off in a classic midland derby.

“The sole motivation for the establishment of the Tailteann Cup is to provide counties with meaningful games against teams of a similar standard,” added Murphy, “and I believe that the benefits of this will become apparent in the weeks and years ahead and replicate the success of our tiers in senior hurling and in the club championships.”

Time and history will tell.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics