Christy O'Connor on the tricky art of naming GAA trophies

The two greatest prizes in Gaelic games, the Liam MacCarthy and Sam Maguire Cups, have Cork connections
Christy O'Connor on the tricky art of naming GAA trophies

Mary O'Riordan, wife of the late Denis O'Riordan, Valley Rovers delegate, presenting a cup in his memory to Marc Sheehan, Paul Hoey and Donal McCarthy. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

ON the day of Richie McElligott’s funeral in 2012, the former great Kerry footballer and hurler, Johnny Culloty, spoke sincerely of his respect for his former team-mate at the graveside. 

Culloty also spoke of the enjoyment and pride he had in being part of the Kerry hurling team of the 1950s and ‘60s alongside McElligott.

Two and a half years after his death in July 2012, the GAA decided to name the All-Ireland U21 B (now U20) championship after McElligott.

Who was he? After his hurling career started as a 15-year-old with Lixnaw, McElligott’s love and passion for the game continued for many decades as player, mentor and officer with his club and county. An ever-present on Kerry hurling teams for a decade and a half, McElligott won an All-Ireland Junior championship in 1961, as well as four National Hurling League Division 2 medals – a feat almost unmatched in Kerry.

In 1959, he was part of the victorious Munster Railway Cup panel alongside Christy Ring, Jimmy Doyle and Jimmy Smyth. In 1984, McElligott was considered for selection on one of the Teams of the Century.

Naming an underage competition after him underlined how highly thought off McElligott was in wider GAA circles, and Kerry certainly honoured his memory in the ultimate manner. After securing their first McElligott Cup in 2017, Kerry went on to win three-in-a-row between 2017-19.

McElligott’s story underlines the multitude of great GAA people who have cups and trophies named after them. Yet when Humphrey Kelleher wrote his book ‘ Family Silver’ – which detailed the history of every Gaelic games trophy - Kelleher found trophies named after seafood, railway, insurance, cigarette and power tool companies, an airline, hotels, gas, glassware, food, technology and pharmaceutical companies.

The first trophies for the All-Ireland football and hurling championships were donated by the Great Southern and Western Railway.

The trophy for the Munster minor hurling championship is called the TWA Cup, donated by Trans World Airlines in 1946. When the Munster intermediate hurling championship was still running, the trophy was called the Sweet Afton Cup, which was donated by the cigarette brand.

The Sweet Afton brand was discontinued in 2011 so that cup (although the competition is now defunct) shares the distinction of carrying a defunct name with that awarded to the All-Ireland minor hurling winners, the Irish Press Cup.

In the days before naming rights of competitions, cup donations were the extent of sponsorship. As a result of the cups keeping their names, there is the anomaly where the winners of the Division 1 National Football League – which is sponsored by Allianz Insurance – receive the New Ireland Cup, named after a life assurance company Some trophies had no name at all. For nearly a century nobody really noticed the absence of any name on the Munster hurling and football senior championship trophies. 

Declan Hannon lifted the Mick Mackey Cup for Limerick as Munster champions. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson
Declan Hannon lifted the Mick Mackey Cup for Limerick as Munster champions. Picture: INPHO/Tommy Dickson

The football trophy never drew much notice but in 2013, Limerick suggested naming the hurling trophy after Mick Mackey.

It wasn’t that simple. After nearly a decade, the Munster hurling championship was formally named the Mick Mackey Cup back in May.

A decision on the new football trophy was deferred last year when Bloody Sunday victim Michael Hogan and Kerry’s Páidí Ó Sé were the two names proposed. After a lengthy discussion at a Munster Council meeting in March 2021, it was decided that a vote would not take place on naming the Munster senior football cup as the Council didn’t want the naming of cups to become a divisive issue.

When the Celtic Challenge underage hurling competitions began in 2016, the five trophies on offer were each named after a Bloody Sunday victim, including Hogan. The lessons from those experiences were clearly visible in the naming of the Tailteann Cup, which began this season.

A few names, including Ó Sé’s, were casually mentioned as potential candidates, but given the GAA’s poor history with second-tier competitions, something more generic was deemed the more logical choice.

Cork legend Ray Cummins has his shot blocked by Kerry full-back Paud O'Donoughue watched by Cork's Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Kerry's Páidí Ó Sé in the 1974 Munster final.
Cork legend Ray Cummins has his shot blocked by Kerry full-back Paud O'Donoughue watched by Cork's Jimmy Barry-Murphy and Kerry's Páidí Ó Sé in the 1974 Munster final.

The naming of cups was always a potential minefield, especially when politics and political history came into play, but the GAA adopted a new policy on it back in June.

To put order on the practice, Central Council endorsed an approval process to be followed when clubs, counties and other units wish to dedicate a piece of competition silverware in memory of a person.

In future, when Central Council creates a new competition, the Central Competitions Control Committee will put together a list of suggested names from counties and recommend one of them to Management Committee.

PROTOCOLS

In the case of an existing cup or trophy, if Central Council deems it appropriate to put a name on it, counties will be asked for their proposals. If it is to be named after a person, he or she must be deceased and preferably have an obvious connection to the competition. The same protocols apply when a GAA unit wishes to give a name to a new cup as well as it being of equivalent or greater value to the existing silverware.

The Liam MacCarthy and Sam Maguire Cups will always hold an iconic status in the GAA because of the importance of those competitions. But the names on most of the other GAA inter-county trophies have just as deep a meaning in their own right.

On the same day in 2015 that the U21 B trophy was named after McElligott, Andrew O'Neill, Peadar Ó Liatháin, Adrian Freeman, Adrian Murray and Stephen Dorrigan also had their names officially etched into the history of the Association through the naming of trophies.

Who were they? Three of them - O’Neill, Freeman and Dorrigan - were young hurlers who died tragically young.

There is always a story behind the name.

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