John Maughan was honest about his ignorance of the Tailteann Cup last week.
“I only discovered by chance last Sunday, I think Andy Moran spoke of geographical, north and south split, and I wasn’t aware of that and I should have been aware of it. That kicks in for the first round.”
It also applies for quarter-finals too but Maughan’s lack of knowledge about the championship that could possibly save Offaly’s season was consistent with that of others. Fermanagh and Cavan selectors Ryan McCluskey and Seánie Johnston cried foul against the north-south split in the wake of Moran’s comments. Their reactions screamed don’t-worry-about-it-until-it-happens.
While the Leitrim boss knew about the geographical split, he seemed to be confused about the format of the Tailteann Cup this year and the round-robin structure that comes into force next season.
“It’s not the way it was sold to us at the start. It was sold that you get three games after your championship exit.”
The vagueness about the competition also appears to have extended to the organisers. Launching the competition on Monday, they had to wait for all the runners and riders to be confirmed before promoting it but up to Westmeath losing to Kildare on Sunday there was uncertainty about when most teams would be playing.
There are other questions about the competition’s selling points. Who picks the Tailteann Cup All-Stars? What’s the qualifying criteria – performances in the league and provincial championship or just the cup itself? If the best of football’s second tier are rewarded with a trip as Maughan is led to believe, will the same nugget be extended to the cream of talent in its hurling equivalent, the Joe McDonagh Cup? Seems only fair, no?
Side issues as they are, such information needs to be nailed down from players if there is to be buy-in.
Playing on the undercard of the All-Ireland final would have been the biggest. Claiming that staging it earlier will allow more counties to start club championships quicker is a red herring when many aren’t beginning theirs until August anyway.
But there is only so much selling the GAA can do. Counties must realise that for most of them this is their lot but one from which they can improve. Cast aside foolish pride and the Tailteann Cup can be a worthwhile pursuit.
Speaking to this newspaper seven years ago, Kerry’s 2004 All-Ireland winning captain Dara Ó Cinnéide highlighted that no county with a population of less than 100,000 has won the Sam Maguire Cup since 1982. The make-up of the Tailteann Cup largely reflects that statistic.
Excluding London, outside of Antrim, Down, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow, the other first round Tailteann Cup teams have populations of less than 100,000 based on most recently completed censuses - Carlow (56,932), Cavan (76,176), Fermanagh (62,527), Laois (84,697), Leitrim (31,798), Longford (40,873), Offaly (77,961), Sligo (65,535) and Westmeath (88,770).
Those consistent outliers Monaghan (61,386) and Roscommon (64,544) are the only two Sam Maguire Cup counties with populations of less than 100,000.
“At the moment, the only competition that Carlow, for example, can aspire to is the Sam Maguire,” Ó Cinnéide said in 2015. “That’s madness, that’s nuts. How does that work for a Carlow player in practice at this time of year? They should aspire to championship football in months when the ball is hopping hard off the ground.”
Ó Cinnéide had been on the committee that established the Tommy Murphy Cup, founded on a bank of evidence that football needed a tier, that Division 4 teams’ championship record was abysmal, but abandoned after five years due to indifference.
That same “why should I bother” attitude appears to have developed in Down where five players have dropped off the panel ahead of the competition. On the other hand, only one from Offaly has left and that was due to lack of game-time.
If counties can’t get out of their own way, they are going to remain stuck. Down are one county who would genuinely benefit from tasting some humble pie and becoming the inaugural winners of the Tailteann Cup but can they see that?
Dublin’s 13-point win over Meath which followed Meath’s 13-point win over Wicklow may indicate there is a need for another tier but when football has baulked at the idea of stratification one will do just fine for now, thank you.
The Tailteann Cup is a competition to avoid but in time it can be something more. Positive words from Sligo and Tipperary help but the proof will be in deeds in the coming weeks.
“The Tailteann Cup will be excellent,” proclaimed GAA president Larry McCarthy after Congress this year. It’s a bold claim to make when the power lies in the hands of the competitors.
It remains to be seen if Limerick will contest Gearóid Hegarty’s sending off on Sunday given it doesn’t result in a suspension. The 2020 hurler of the year may have been sent off already this year but would need to be dismissed three times for a two-game cumulative ban to be applied.
Then again, Kilkenny took it upon themselves to appeal Henry Shefflin’s double yellow sending off against Cork in 2013 purely on the basis of clearing the star’s good name. And Hegarty wouldn’t be the first Limerick player to seek a straightening of the record after Cian Lynch’s red card in the Fitzgibbon Cup final was quashed in February.
So does John Kiely wait until Hegarty faces a possible cumulative ban to head to the Central Hearings Committee or does he try and make a point now to protect his player? His words after the game in Ennis suggest he is interested in acting immediately.
“There’s a narrative there at the moment that Gearóid is playing on the edge or doing x, y, or z, and it’s feeding into people’s decision-making. It needs to stop, because it’s going to have a big impact and it's disappointing to see a player do that.”
Hegarty’s red card was so blatantly wrong that it almost demands rescinding but then the sense of injustice isn’t the worst thing for a team that have been perceived as artful dodgers.
New York GAA hope for a full house in the National Conference Centre on the Friday of All-Ireland senior football final weekend for their Gaelic Park redevelopment fundraiser.
The NYGAA hall of fame event on July 22 sees legends of the sport such as Jim Gavin, Joe Canning, Briege Corkery and Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh honoured for their contributions. The black tie event is hosted by Marty Morrissey with the likes of Conor Moore providing entertainment.
You imagine after all the fundraising that has been done in New York down through the years that GAA president Larry McCarthy will be encouraging counties here to return the favour. The Gaelic Players Association (GPA) should be getting a call to book a table after their many similar events in New York over the past decade or so.
Revamping the GAA’s home in the city has been on McCarthy’s mind for years. “Our concern is when we go in and look for money to renovate Gaelic Park, is that going to be a problem for us?” he told Michael Moynihan in 2016.
“If we go home to Ireland and ask the county boards for €10,000 each, what are they going to say when we say, ‘a lot of you have had people out here getting money for them, and at a certain level we’ve helped — will ye come across now?
“That’s the concern for us - that when we get through the bureaucracy to try to renovate Gaelic Park, will the fundraising Kerry and the GPA and everybody else has done have an impact on our ability to raise funds?”
With McCarthy occupying the president’s office, there will never be a better opportunity to remind those here that came with cap in hand to The Big Apple that it’s time to give something back.
Visit www.nygaahof.com for more information on the event.