Croke Park, the perfect stage for the Tailteann Cup


The Tailteann Cup takes center stage this Sunday. No other football game to distract footballers from Cavan, Offaly, Sligo and Westmeath.

The semi-finals are live on RTÉ and, as the main football matches this weekend, they should get extensive coverage on The Sunday Game.

The GAA deserves to be congratulated for the schedule of meetings. The national focus on showdowns will further promote this important competition. It needs all the publicity necessary for us, the public, to see it as a success and something worthwhile.

The Tailteann Cup should be measured on its own merits and not compared to its predecessor the Tommy Murphy Cup.

For the media and the public, first impressions are essential. Next year’s competition may well be different in structure. Direct knockouts will be replaced by groups of four. Either way, the name of the competition will be the same. For its own status, the first year of the Tailteann Cup must be a success.

The management of all four teams will have embraced this extra time together as a group. More time together on and off the pitch leads to new levels of understanding and camaraderie. The hope of the managements is that the success of the Tailteann Cup will lead to better performances in next year’s Allianz League and beyond.

The four semi-finalists know that they will play in Division 3 and 4 next year. In order to play in the All-Ireland Series, they will need to reach a provincial final. However, the carrot of the winners of the July 9 final playing in the All-Ireland series in 2023 is an attractive bonus. The extra motivation will add even more spice to the games.

Good order as the semi-finals are at Croke Park. Leinster counties have regular headquarters days, unfortunately counties in the other three provinces have been denied opportunities to play there.

The idea that a game is in Croke Park elevates its status for everyone. After seeing the game, kids commit to play and practice to emulate their heroes and play in Croke Park.

Sponsors feel justified in providing support and will be encouraged to provide support for the following season. For gamers, it can take focus to a whole new level.

As a player, I never had the opportunity to play at Croke Park. As a manager and coach, I have taken and loved every opportunity to be involved with teams at our beautiful stadium.

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There’s so much to love about Croke Park from a player’s perspective. For counties lucky enough to play there often, they may be taking things for granted. For people who are there for the first time, it is important to savor every moment.

The bus arrives. See your county colors worn with pride. Men, women and children with wide smiles of excitement and anticipation on their faces as they travel down Clonliffe or Ballybough Road, or any of the other tributaries that feed into Croker. Maneuver the bus through the narrow streets to the back of the Cusack stand and take your GAA liaison as supporters turn to wave, cheer and shout words of encouragement.

Get off the bus under cover of Cusack or Hogan and enter the huge changing rooms. So many novelties; monitors on the walls, synthetic turf warm-up area next to the dressing room, special seats to sit in the stand to watch the previous match and of course the mandatory step on the pitch to access the wind and the immaculate surface.

The surface of the pitch deserves a special mention – it’s a player’s dream. On TV it looks perfect and in reality it is perfect. No spray or camouflage to cover camera imperfections.

Such a contrast to many of our club grounds which show serious wear and tear throughout the year. You can be sure that when the ball bounces at Croke Park, it does exactly what you expect it to. For gamers, the only conundrum is whether I wear molded or studded boots? The grass is so lush it can be slippery and the ground is soft enough to take a stud.

No matter how many times you attend a match at Croke Park as a spectator, you will never be prepared for the first time you stand on the pitch and look around.

Once engaged and ready to go, there can be a lull, an angst of just getting out. Coaches, managers, experienced players have a key role right now. Keep the guys on task, remind them to follow the process, follow the game plan, believe in yourself, do the simple things right. For some players, the lull is necessary to enter the battle-ready zone.

The more players are put in this situation, the better they control their emotions and exploit their potential.

The signal to enter the pitch triggers the sprint from the locker room down the hallway, out of the tunnel and onto the pitch to be greeted with an almighty cheer. The warm-up is important from a physical point of view but at Croke Park, for the novices, the warm-up is more a psychological preparation.

The Colosseum can either inspire you or make you cower in fear when you suffer from impostor syndrome.

The four teams will try their luck on Sunday. And having two competitive matches on TV will go a long way in shaping our view of the Tailteann Cup for years to come.

Follow the Tailteann Cup semi-finals on Sunday, Sligo v Cavan (1.45pm) and Offaly v Westmeath (4pm), via our live blog at rte.ie/sport or on the RTÉ News app. Watch live coverage on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player from 1.30pm with live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1.

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