WHEN the Super Bowl takes place in Tampa on February 7 the eventual winner will be presented with the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and for Irish sports fans, the presentation will seem a little odd.
This is because the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will not hand the trophy over to the captain of the victorious team. He won’t even give it to the victorious coach. Instead, he will present it to the owner of the relevant franchise.
In American Football the owner drives everything. They front up the cash, they ensure facilities such as world-class stadia are in place, they hire the coaches, and they ultimately put in place the structures and culture that allows a team to perform, prevail and succeed.
And while that concept might not sit well in the minds of Irish sports fans, in reality, we here in Ireland are fast hurtling towards a situation that is not too dissimilar to what happens in top-end professional American sport, as the men and organisations behind financing inter-county teams become increasingly influential cogs in the machinations of inter-county success.
Substitute American franchise owners for the likes of JP McManus at Limerick, Declan Kelly in Tipperary, or Pat McDonagh up in Galway, and it is clear that the conflicting worlds of amateur sport and the multi-millionaire have collided.
You can have as much money in the county board coffers as Jeff Bezos’ bulging bank account yet if you do not have the right people running the show and coaching the relevant teams then in all likelihood you are probably going to come up short.
But can you attract these key individuals without the structures, resources and promises that cold hard cash puts in place?
Does Liam Sheedy really step back from a highly paid bank job in order to oversee Tipperary’s charge to All-Ireland glory in 2019 if Teneo had not pulled out all the stops 12 months earlier, for instance?
Teneo is a firm that claims to be the world’s leading CEO advisory firm. In advance of the 2019 All-Ireland Final Teneo’s Mick O’Keeffe admitted that: “The logo on the jersey was not why we got involved and we don’t see ourselves leveraging the partnership to increase mass awareness for example.
“We don’t 'activate' in a classical way or in a way we would advise a consumer-facing organisation for example which may be looking to reward customers, shift brand sentiment or raise awareness of a new product or service.”
In other words, there was nothing in it for Teneo.
The €180,000 a year sponsorship deal, and the completely separate establishment of a commercial board to support the 'ongoing strategic development' of the Tipperary senior hurling team, whatever that means, allowed Declan Kelly help propel his native county to the top of the hurling rankings. Kelly is the brother of Labour leader Alan Kelly, and is the chairman, CEO and Co-founder of Teneo, and is a huge supporter of Tipperary GAA. A hugely successful businessman.
And is there anything wrong with such an approach? Absolutely not. I’m sure there are many of us out there who would attempt to bankroll Cork GAA if they were fortunate enough to win the Euromillions in the morning.
JP McManus attempted, and succeeded, in doing the same with Limerick, as his bankrolling of the county was instrumental to their two All-Ireland successes of 2018 and 2020. In 2018, after Limerick had won their first All-Ireland in 45 years, he ‘gifted’ €100,000 to every county board in Ireland. One can only guess how generous he was to Limerick GAA in the previous decade.
Galway is in the same boat. A few years back they signed a sponsorship deal with long-time backers Supermacs, understood to be worth €2 million over a five-year period.
It’s no surprise then that the winners of the last four All-Ireland hurling titles are the three aforementioned counties above. Money might not put the ball over the bar, but it certainly helps create the type of environment that allows teams to be the best they can be at putting the ball over the bar.
Mike Ashley is not a Corkman. In fact, there’s a good chance he thinks that Robert Downey is some Hollywood A-list actor as opposed to a Glen Rovers hurler.
The success or failure of the Cork hurlers and footballers over the next five years is unlikely to cost him much sleep. Yet the recent announcement that his Sports Direct firm is the new sponsor of Cork GAA, replacing the departing Chill Insurance brand, means that Cork may be able to compete financially with the likes of Limerick, Tipperary and Galway going forward.
This kind of money does not guarantee success, however. In the wrong hands, it can be squandered and the wait for senior All-Ireland honours at both hurling and football could well stretch past the five-year deal.
It helps though, and the wait has been so long at this stage that most Cork GAA supporters would even accept having to endure the sight of Mike Ashley lifting Liam McCarthy or Sam Maguire high in the Hogan Stand himself, Super Bowl style, if it meant Cork were to experience All-Ireland glory soon.