I’m pierced to the skin and menacingly clutching an air horn as I see a fellow Rathcormac NS student has been chosen to play at halftime in tonight’s Connacht final.
I leave Roscommon devastated – Sligo have been robbed of their first Connacht title in 22 years – but I’m in awe that someone whose brother is in my class was allowed to take to the field that day. How could he be so good at football?
July 7, 2001
“How can Sligo play again today? Are you sure Mayo has already beaten her in the championship?’
“The qualifiers,” I say (the rabid consumption of the sports sites has kept me updated with this great new morning for the GAA).
“Kildare? Croke Park? Poor idiots are wasting their time going to Dublin to get banged.”
Cue one of Sligo’s great days. The rampaging outbursts of Eamon O’Hara. The Assassin’s Left Foot by Dessie Sloyan.
An entire county climbs onto a moving train.
How would it feel to stand on this field? Could it ever happen?
June 21, 2009
I finish my second bowl of Crunchy Nut Cereal and leave Raughley to make a dream come true. A date that has been burned into my brain since last November.
Marching behind the band with guys I adored. We Division 4 winners vs Division 1 Galway. Two (very) questionable calls from referee Derek Fahy later and I’m on the bench for the last 15. Cearta Dearg.
* Somewhat later *
I am leaving a local hostel after a long period of refueling.
How long? A teammate is sitting outside reading one of the local newspapers. It comes out on a Tuesday morning.
8 o’clock. Reality bites! It’s going to be a long day at the summer job.
At least there is no mention of football… at least we can look forward to qualifying…
July 18, 2009
After a win in Thurles the excitement is back and we head to Tralee. We weave through traffic towards The Pussy Cat Dolls.
Later we fly home from Faranfore. My turmoil at the first red card intensifies. I hooked an easy point try wide into a crushing one-point loss.
I let down some of my childhood heroes. Once again!
Colm Cooper and Tomás Ó Se took some recovery advice from some of Sligo’s team sages. They earn a weekend off before retiring to the starting XI to help Kerry to her 36th All-Ireland title in September.
Where could a win have taken us…
How can “The Tailteann” be a success? Work backwards from what should be the main feature. What does the person in the jersey want? Maybe I’m too idealistic.
If you can’t impose ambitious managers like Rory Gallagher in 32 counties who are passionate about ensuring everyone has a chance to win their provincial title (respectable competitions with decades of history behind them) then give me a decent alternative.
Reduce the crazy workout:game ratio. Give me one game every week or at least three games every four weeks for club and/or district.
Players like to play in front of crowds. Playing in a place with atmosphere is fun for both players and spectators. A regionalized draw increases the likelihood of more people participating until the train starts to fill up for later rounds.
Give me a summer competition where I get a home game, an away game and one at Croke Park on a “super Saturday”? The Carrot of Croker can only wield a boy for staying power on a choppy February night when the Champions League group stage is an attractive alternative to a few sets of MAS runs on a sticky turf.
Give me a chance to be a hero to the 9 year olds on the patio and make them dream of one day marching behind the band with their heroes. Give us a band, that’s pure madness, but it’s our madness. The splendor causes a stir. Why is the nine-year-old allowed on at half-time in Parnell or Portloaise but not in MacHale or Thurles. His madness again, but our madness. There are probably good reasons for this, but tell us why.
Make it a cheap day trip for my friends and clubmates. Attract them to our cities and give back to our sponsors. Crowds of people bring life, color and phone calls to the sponsors’ tills. With a few euros left over for the hat, flag, headband and most importantly… the air horn.
The GAA has never marketed the Sam Maguire well. Have some sponsors. The law of unintended consequences helped. Our original connection to places – club and county. The relative shame of switching allegiances leads us to blindly cling to our own—sometimes remotely—but always anxious to jump on the bandwagon.
Marketing? Can we get a phone with Spotify in any terrain? I’m looking forward to some Westlife, Kendrick Lamar or Big Tom at Markievicz Park next weekend. Atmosphere and occasion are our friend. In 15 years at the latest there will be players on the pitch who were inspired by the color, the madness and the atmosphere of their nine-year-old self.
The Qualifiers got off to a bad start. Can The Tailteann help more counties create memories and special moments for players, families and supporters? How do we inspire the next generation of GAA players to ensure a unique cultural privilege we are blessed with endures?
Neil Ewing played inter-county football at Sligo for 13 years before retiring in 2021
https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/harnessing-county-pride-can-make-tailteann-cup-a-success-41668684.html Leveraging county pride can make the Tailteann Cup a success