Time to give Joe McDonagh Cup respect it deserves


It probably hasn’t occurred to you, but one of the best GAA competitions of the season is starting in a few weeks. Before you ask, no, it’s not the Leinster or Munster Hurling championship, although they are great. It’s not the provincial football championships either, whose claim to greatness is somewhat more a matter of dispute. No, we’re talking of course, about the Joe McDonagh cup.

Now before you pipe up and say “Jaysus, I’d nearly forgotten about that” let us clarify, we’re not blaming you. We’re not blaming you at all. I mean, hell, up to this week, not even the players and officials involved, knew when the competition was starting. No, really. Westmeath’s manager Joe Quaid even commented that he only received confirmation for times and dates of his side’s fixtures on April 17th, less than a month, yes one month, before the beginning of the tournament. So when you think about the scant regard the GAA, the actual organization running the competition, pays it, is it any wonder the general public has very little interest or, indeed, knowledge of it at all?

That’s a tremendous pity, because last year’s competition was one of the highlights of the GAA calendar. All of the sides, with the exception of winless Meath, really would have fancied themselves to have a good shot of claiming the title at the initiation of the tournament, and there were some immensely exciting games along the way.

Then again, the GAA does not help itself. For instance, the idea to put the championship final on in Croke Park last year was a noble one. The only question was, what time would they fix it for. So some bright spark above in HQ decided “Sure, why not put it on at the same time as the Munster hurling final? That won’t affect the crowd.” Ah, it kind of does though. I mean, it actually really does. So, on what should have been one in the greatest days of their lives Carlow and Westmeath hurlers found themselves walking out in front of a near deserted stadium, as thousands of Galway and Kilkenny fans watched the Munster final on television in a pub down the road. Not exactly the best way to promote the game was it?

Another major issue with the competition last year was the lack of television coverage. Now compared with the barren wasteland that is the April GAA calendar, the May one is chock-a-block. I mean, on the first weekend of the Joe McDonagh cup this year, up to 12 senior inter-county championship matches are taking place. Therefore, any hope of seeing any action on the 90 minute highlights programme on the Sunday Game is near enough impossible.

Then again, and this cannot be stated enough, there are other TV stations that could show these games. For example, TG4, just about the best TV station for GAA coverage for 9 months of the year, is practically devoid of any live Gaelic games coverage in the summer. What would be the problem with TG4 showing live action of the Joe McDonagh cup games in the summer, on a Saturday afternoon, or perhaps at the same time as a football game being shown on RTE? It would certainly do more for the promotion of hurling in these counties. It would also give hurling fans, a lot of whom are indifferent to football, the chance to watch more action and whet their apetite for future games.

There could also be a concerted effort to have an extended highlights show on the channel, of the Joe McDonagh games as well as the Lory Meagher, Christy Ring and Nicky Rackard cups. Or why don’t the GAA finally put their money where their mouth is, and start their own subscription led channel? With the amount of games that take place in the summer in all competitions, there would certainly be enough material to cover. Considering the amount of inter-county GAA action that takes place in May and June, a solitary 90 minute highlights package show on a Sunday night is clearly not enough.

You see, there seems to be a recurring theme with the GAA when it comes to promotion of their games. Whereas the Sky and BT Sports of this world bleed themselves dry, trying to advertise their product, it’s as if the GAA want to hide their light under a bushel. Even in the highly capitalist world of English football, there is an effort to show clashes featuring teams from the lower rungs of the ladder, but that desire in our own organization is notoriously absent. Sure RTE barely bother reading out the results of the lower divisions on their own TV shows at times.

Let’s make no bones about it, when it comes to sport, or any other product for that matter, marketing helps. Look to the LIDL Ladies football championship as to how a dedicated sponsor, with an actual interest in developing the game, can promote something. If a company with a similar ambition to LIDL, came on board with the Joe McDonagh cup, god only knows how much untapped potential there is to it.

Another problem with the Joe McDonagh cup last year was the haphazard idea regarding promotion and relegation. That the bottom placed team last year (Meath) should go down was not in question, particularly seeing as they were quite a bit adrift from the others. What didn’t seem to make any sense however, was the fact that the fifth placed team-Antrim-were embroiled in their own relegation battle against the winners of the Christy Ring Cup, Kildare.

It just seemed like such a bizarre scenario, that a county who should have been celebrating a fine victory, in a difficult competition of their own right, should then be cast into a make or break fixture against another side, less than a week later. And for that matter, why does there have to be just 5 teams in the Joe McDonagh cup? The 6 team group last year seemed a perfect fit, considering each side got to play every week. Indeed, Westmeath’s manager from last year Michael Ryan, made that exact point “Overall, it’s been a really good competition and what I particularly like is the even number of counties, meaning no teams have a bye, so the concept is working very well. So, lo and behold, I hear that they want to make it into a five-team competition. Typical Irish thing: if something isn’t broken, go and fix it.”

It’s hard to argue with that. Or with Carlow’s Paul Coady’s assertion last year that the GAA are “happy to have those 9 (strong counties playing hurling) and let the other counties suffer and have the odd day in the sunshine” So as you’re going to a game in Thurles or Dublin or wherever else over the next few weeks spare a thought for those hurlers performing off Broadway. Because if the GAA put in as much effort into promoting this competition, as players did preparing for it, there’s no way it would be struggling for attention.