See if you can manage the new GAA board game

Bainisteoir is in shops now and could be the ideal present for the GAA buff in your life
See if you can manage the new GAA board game

Close-up of the Bainisteoir board

While it’s unfortunately another winter where two Cork natives, Liam MacCarthy and Sam Maguire, are resident elsewhere, a new GAA-based board game gives you the opportunity to lead the county to All-Ireland glory.

Sometimes, it’s best not to combine two enjoyable things. For instance, fans of Father Ted will remember the horrified reaction of singer Eoin McLove – who loved jumpers and cake – when Mrs Doyle made the decision to bake him a cake-jumper, but Bainisteoir is a perfect mix of Gaelic games and interactive fun.

It’s something of a curiosity that, given how deeply embedded in the Irish psyche hurling, football and camogie are, there is little in the way of spin-off interests outside of the games themselves. Attempts to copy Fantasy Premier League have struggled due to the knockout nature of the All-Irelands, while the few computer games that were launched struggled to have any lasting impact.

Christmas is a time when all the family can sit down to play a board game – possibly with negative results, depending on how seriously it is being taken – and there is finally a product on the market to satisfy the GAA fans who are cooped up inside with no games to go to.

Bainisteoir is the brainchild of primary teachers Éanna Byrne and James Fallon, who hail from Meath and Longford respectively but are now domiciled in Spiddal and Castlebar. In a classic case of necessity being the mother of invention, they observed how there was an opportunity to develop something when pupils were stuck in the classroom on wet days.

“It’s been about two years in the making,” says Éanna.

“We noticed that the kids liked playing board-games at lunchtime. There’s obviously a huge interest in football here but there was nothing linking the two for those wet days where the children were stuck inside.

“We had an interest in trying something different so we said we’d try a Gaelic games board-game.

“Lockdown arrived soon after, which gave us an opportunity to do work on it over Zoom, trying out different ideas, and it went on from there. It’s been a really enjoyable process.”

Éanna, a grandson of past GAA President Aodh Ó Broin, recalls how internal and then external testing provided the chance to refine and improved aspects of the game.

“The first time we met was just before lockdown, in The Anglers’ Rest in Headford, halfway between our two houses,” he says.

“I think the locals didn’t know what was going on with these two boys arriving – Liverpool were playing Atlético Madrid in the background and there we were, playing away with these sheets of paper!

“We did a homemade version, a lot of work went into that, and then we worked on the prototype with a designer from Mexico, she was brilliant.

“We did a lot of testing with various age-groups – blind testing, so they didn’t know what it was about, they just had to read the rules and go from there.

“We gave it to families and they filled out feedback sheets. We refined ideas on their input and tweaked some elements. We wanted to make sure it was accessible to children as possible and so it gave us great encouragement when they were enjoying it.

“They loved the theme of the game and the different features, like the transfer system and going head-to-head in games, or the 50-50 cards, which could be good or good be bad!

“We had a good time tweaking it and it’s just been an enjoyable process, seeing the game grow and hopefully improve.”

Priced at €35, the game is intended to appeal to all ages.

“We would say seven-plus,” Éanna says.

“We’ve tried it on seven-year-olds and, especially if they’ve an adult with them and they’re interested in sport, they’d be very comfortable with it.

“There are videos online about how to play and we’ve found that they’ve been very beneficial for the kids.”

Now, the challenge is to get the word out and hopefully attract the attention of the buying public in the lead-up to Christmas.

“We’ve been working with O’Neills, so that has given the project credibility and they’ve pushed it on their social-media channels, which has been very beneficial,” Éanna says.

“We wanted to have as high-quality a product as possible, so we had it made by Cartamundi in Waterford, which allowed us to happily say that it was made in Ireland.

“We launched the game with [Mayo players] Pádraig O’Hora and Kathryn Sullivan in Ballina a couple of weeks ago and we ran a competition for people to enter to have their names used for the player cards in the game.

“That created some awareness as well and getting it out into stores facilitated it being available in parishes all around the country. We’re lucky that it’s in independent stores, Smyths, Toymaster and Art & Hobby.

“It’s there in the public eye now and we’re very happy that stores have been willing to take a chance on it and support something local.”

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