triumph | 

Three cheers for the Tailteann Cup - it is here to stay and will only get better

Any doubts about the relevance of the Tailteann Cup were dispelled last weekend
Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney is congratulated after saving two penalties in a penalty shoot out by team mates in the Tailteann Cup quarter-final win over Leitrim at Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. Photo: Ray Ryan/Sportsfile

Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney is congratulated after saving two penalties in a penalty shoot out by team mates in the Tailteann Cup quarter-final win over Leitrim at Avant Money Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon in Leitrim. Photo: Ray Ryan/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

ANY doubts about the relevance of the Tailteann Cup were dispelled in a 20-second cameo in Carrick-on-Shannon last Sunday.

Immediately after Sligo goalkeeper Aidan Devaney saved Emlyn Mulligan’s penalty to secure the Yeats County’s place in the last four, his team-mates sprinted from the touchline to converge on him

This was no pretend celebration. It was a genuine outpouring of joy, tinged with a dollop of relief.

For the second time in a row, Sligo had dodged a bullet. Against London, they had been fortunate to bring their first-round game to extra time.

This time only a poor refereeing/umpiring decision at the start of extra time, which resulted in a Leitrim goal being wrongly disallowed for a square ball, saved them.

The essence of sport is its competitiveness; once this is removed it quickly loses its relevance.

For example, I suspect even the Kerry fans were bored early in the second half of the Munster football final.

In contrast, the fans at the hurling decider could forget about all the basic shooting errors in the second half because the outcome was in doubt until the final whistle.

Even though they would be loathe to admit it, the All-Ireland championship has lost its relevance for more than half the competing counties.

Realistically, they know they have no chance of ever winning the Sam Maguire Cup. The best they can hope for is the occasional victory. Perhaps once in a generation they might have a hope of winning a provincial title.

The All-Ireland qualifiers were supposed to aid the weaker counties, but the concept was doomed from the start.

Instead, they gave the bigger units a chance to redeem themselves if they occasionally had a bad day at the office.

In more recent times the Division 4 teams became cannon fodder for their bigger brethren who used the back-door system to relaunch their All-Ireland campaigns.

This is precisely the reason the Tailteann Cup is hugely important and will probably become more significant with each passing year.

It offers counties from Division 3 and 4 not just hope, but an achievable pathway to Croke Park and championship silverware.

On Sunday week Sligo will play their fifth championship game of the summer.

Even in 2010 ­, when they went close to winning the Connacht championship, they had only four games.

A graded system works perfectly well in club football because it offers clubs an opportunity not just to play teams of equal ability but to progress up the ladder as well.

Realistically, Leitrim will never win the Sam Maguire Cup and though Sligo have twice the population, their chances of winning it are equally remote.

However, both have a realistic chance of winning the Tailteann Cup - as have virtually all the other participants.

Success in sport is all about momentum and winning national championship silverware will give players the incentive to stay involved and have a cut at the Allianz League next spring.

One of the biggest problems facing weaker counties is the retention of players. Leitrim have turned over more players than Dublin in the last decade. And with such a tiny base to begin with, they simply cannot afford this kind of churn.

Even though they exited the competition last Sunday, they are already looking forward to next year. In Keith Beirne they have an exceptional forward.

He has the potential to be the next Mattie Forde or Declan Browne if he applies himself properly and he is the kind of player Andy Moran can build a team around.

The chances are that under the old system Cavan, Sligo, Offaly and Westmeath would have already exited the championship at this stage of the season.

Now they can all look to at least one more outing in Croke Park.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. The Sligo v Leitrim game was a fantastic advertisement for Gaelic football.

It was the opposite to the Ulster final bore-fest which was played in virtual silence in Clones the previous Sunday.

There was a palpable sense of excitement in Pairc Sean MacDiarmada. Sure, the penalty shoot-out was cruel, but it did bring a sense of drama to the occasion.

So, three cheers for the Tailteann Cup. It is here to stay and will only get better.


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