The Tailteann Cup takes centre stage this Sunday. No other football matches to distract attention away from Cavan, Offaly, Sligo and Westmeath's footballers.
The semi-finals are live on RTÉ and, as the main football games this weekend, they should get extended coverage on The Sunday Game.
The GAA deserves credit for the timing of the fixtures. National focus on the showdowns will help to further promote this important competition. It needs every bit of publicity to ensure we, the public, see it as a success and a worthwhile thing.
The Tailteann Cup needs to be measured on its own merits and not compared to its predecessor the Tommy Murphy Cup.
For the media and public, first impressions are key. Next year’s competition may well be different in structure. Straight knockout will be replaced by groups of four. Regardless, the name of the competition will be the same. For the sake of its own status, year one of the Tailteann Cup has to 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 managements is that success in the Tailteann Cup will lead to better performances in next year’s Allianz League and beyond.
All four semi-finalists know they are playing in Division 3 and 4 next year. In order to play in the All-Ireland series they will have to reach a provincial final. However, the carrot of the winners of the final on 9 July playing in the All-Ireland series in 2023 is an appealing bounty. The extra motivation will add even more spice to the games.
Proper order that the semi-finals are in Croke Park. Leinster counties have regular days out in headquarters, unfortunately counties from the other three provinces have been starved of opportunities to play there.
The idea that a game is in Croke Park raises its status for everyone. After seeing the match, children commit to playing and practicing to emulate their heroes and play in Croke Park.
Sponsors feel vindicated in providing support and will be encouraged to provide support for the following season. For the players, it can bring focus to a whole new level.
As a player, I never had an opportunity to play in Croke Park. As a manager and coach, I have embraced and loved every opportunity to be involved with teams in our magnificent stadium.
We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences
There is so much to love about Croke Park from a player’s point of view. For the counties that are lucky enough to play there often, perhaps they take things for granted. For the people that are there for the first time, it is important to savour every moment.
The bus drive in. Seeing your county colours worn with pride. Men, women and children with broad smiles of excitement and anticipation on their faces as they walk down Clonliffe or Ballybough Road, or any of the other tributaries that feed Croker. Manoeuvring the bus down the narrow streets to the back of the Cusack Stand and picking up your GAA liaison as supporters turn to wave, cheer and shout words of encouragement.
Getting off the bus under the cover of the Cusack or Hogan and entering the huge changing rooms. So many novelties; monitors on the walls, astro turf warm-up area beside the changing room, special seats to sit in the stand to watch the earlier game and of course the obligatory walk on the pitch to access the wind and immaculate surface.
The surface of the pitch deserves a special mention – it is a player’s dream. On the TV, it looks perfect and in reality it is perfect. No spray or camouflage to cover up blemishes for the cameras.
Such a contrast to many of our club pitches that show serious wear and tear as the year goes on. You can be sure that when the ball bounces in Croke Park it does exactly what you expect it to do. For players, the only conundrum is do I wear moulded or studded boots? The grass is so lush it can be slippy and the ground is soft enough to take a stud.
Regardless of how many times you attend a game in Croke Park as a spectator, you will never be prepared for the first time you stand on the pitch and look around.
Once togged and ready to go there can be a lull, an anxiousness to just get out there. Coaches, managers, experienced players have a key role at this time. Keep guys on task remind them to follow the process, follow the game plan, believe in yourselves, get the simple things right. For some players the lull is needed for them to get into the zone ready for battle.
The more times players are put in this situation, the better they get at controlling their emotions and playing to their potential.
The signal to enter the pitch sparks the sprint from the changing room down the corridor, out the tunnel and onto the pitch to be greeted by an almighty cheer. The warm-up is important from a physical point of view but in Croke Park, for the inexperienced, the warm-up is more a psychological preparation.
The coliseum can either inspire you or cause you to curl up in fear as you suffer with imposter syndrome.
All four teams will fancy their chances on Sunday. And having two competitive games on TV will go a long way to shaping our view of the Tailteann Cup for the years ahead.
Follow the Tailteann Cup semi-finals on Sunday, Sligo v Cavan (1.45pm) and Offaly v Westmeath (4pm), via our live blog on rte.ie/sport or on the RTÉ News app. Watch live coverage on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player commencing at 1.30pm with live radio commentary on RTÉ Radio 1.