From Thursday to Sunday during golf season, the US PGA Tour does much the same thing. Their slogan – these guys are good – is a little less grand but the intent is the same. In a crowded viewing marketplace, it pays to regularly extoll the virtues of your players, enhancing their individual profiles, and reinforcing the belief that these guys are the best at what they do on the planet. If those are two examples from the United States of the efficacy of sports advertising, there are more even nearer home.
After Jeremy Davidson, Paul Wallace and Eric Millar had played key roles on the British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa in 1997, some bright spark in the IRFU decided to invest a few bob in promoting that fact. Astutely cashing in on what had been one of the most over-hyped sports events of that decade, billboards around Dublin were festooned with the image of the three lads. It says much for the value of such a move that more than a decade later an avowed rugby skeptic like myself, a man who didn’t watch one single minute of that tour, can recall the identity of the three boys.
All of the above is relevant to the dispute involving the Cork hurlers. In an era when the competition for both supporters’ euros and the interest of young players has never been more keen, the greatest sin of the county board has been to ignore the unique marketing opportunity in its midst. Rather than repeatedly going to war with this squad, Pairc Ui Chaoimh officialdom should have been seeking over the past while to make the most out of this unique bunch of personalities before they exit the inter-county scene forever. And in some cases that day is nearer than others.
There is a precedent for this sort of thing. Like or loathe the involvement of alcohol in sport, the surge in hurling’s popularity after Guinness began actually to seriously market the championship in the mid-1990s undeniable. Remember the billboards suddenly appearing all over the country. This man can break hearts from 90 yards etc. The All-Ireland club championship has undergone a spike in interest too just by sheer dint of clever and slick advertising. It may not be fashionable to admit but this kind of stuff has an impact.
If Sean Og o hAilpin is so bloody attractive to deodorant companies, supermarket chains and Adidas, his fellow GAA members shouldn’t be attacking him for it. They should be figuring out how to get him doing billboards for the game he so obviously loves. In the parlance of American marketing-speak, here is a character who transcends the game he plays and enjoys name recognition among a huge section of the population who never even go to matches. That’s a unique asset and one that should have been exploited at every turn by the board.
In case anybody near to reins of power in Cork GAA hasn’t noticed, a lot has happened in the sports world since the county last won an All-Ireland. Padraig Harrington has bagged three majors, Munster have won two (ridiculously over-hyped) European rugby cups, and Alex Ferguson is currently in charge of arguably the most exciting and potentially most successful Manchester United team in recent memory. All of that matters because when children want to play sport, they are generally influenced by what they are being bombarded with in the media. As United have grown and grown this past winter, all kids have seen of Cork hurling is strikes and marches and large meetings.
Under these circumstances, it bears wondering how many potential future Cork hurlers have already asked their fathers for golf clubs after seeing Harrington perform so wondrously. Or, heaven forfend, for a dreaded oval ball and the directions to Musgrave Park after watching Munster. Never mind the fact that if United end up winning any sort of treble or quadruple or whatever in the coming weeks, the coverage will be suffocating as to leave little room in the imaginations of children for anything else.
There is more than a missed marketing opportunity to this too. The Cork players who won All-Irelands between 1999 and 2005 were not the most gifted squad ever to represent the county. However, there is a good case to be made they were the most dedicated. They employed progressive training methods and science to try to maximize the natural ability they possessed. One would think then they have a lot to contribute to the county’s future direction.
Think of all these men must have learned in victory and defeat this past decade. In any code in the world, the authorities’ only concern would be making sure the key figures on that panel stayed involved to pass on their expertise. And weren’t lost to the golf course like so many members of previous generations.
Then again, it’s a bit crazy to expect Donal Og Cusack to be asked to take on some role like hurling czar given that, to the best of my knowledge, Billy Morgan is no longer contributing in any formal way to the county teams. In any professional sport in the world, a man with Morgan’s pedigree and history would by now be president emeritus or head of youth development. He would have some sort of position, regardless of title, making sure his knowledge is a resource available to all those coming after him.
Unfortunately, Cork GAA seems to be a place where a little knowledge is considered a dangerous thing.