GAA Football

Direct route back into All-Ireland would boost Tailteann Cup: Mickey Graham

Cavan boss Mickey Graham believes 'streamlining' the Tailteann Cup could make the competition a more attractive proposition for counties. Picture by Philip Walsh
Neil Loughran

OFFERING an instant route back into the All-Ireland Championship would provide a greater incentive for counties competing in the Tailteann Cup going forward, according to Cavan boss Mickey Graham.

His Breffni Blues face Westmeath in Saturday’s inaugural Tailteann Cup final, with the winner securing their spot in the race for next year’s Sam Maguire Cup.

However, comparisons have been drawn with hurling’s second tier competition, the Joe McDonagh Cup, which offers the winners a chance to force their way back into the Liam MacCarthy shake-up in the same summer.

And Graham agrees that, as ways to improve the Tailteann Cup are still being discussed, this is one option that would make the rewards for success more tangible.

“The idea of streamlining it is a good idea - that the winners go into the current year’s qualifiers, or maybe last 16,” said the Breffni boss.

“I think, like any new competition, there will always be teething problems and there will always be learnings from it. Even when the draws were made there was a northern section and a southern section and then it was knock-out.

“The GAA will take learnings from it and the competition will grow as the years go on. Teams will see whoever wins the Tailteann Cup over the next few years, they’ll look at those teams and say ‘look where those teams have got to now’ - it’s a springboard for them to progress and compete with the bigger teams.

“Only time will tell but you’d like to think that they’ll take learnings from this year and make it even better next year.”

Asked whether the carrot of instant entry to the All-Ireland chase would be required to sustain the Tailteann Cup, Graham pointed out that there is a bigger picture to consider.

“The question you have to ask yourself is at times, when you look at the top teams in the country, is there a gulf between the top seven or eight teams and the next 20 teams? There probably is, let’s be realistic about it.

“If this competition is promoted in the right way and helps to develop players and gets players used to being competitive at this level, then it might give them the confidence to stick at it, push on and maybe be competitive at a higher level.”

There is no doubt that Cavan, in its first year, have embraced the competition to the full.

Even in the aftermath of a devastating Ulster Championship exit to Donegal, Graham was adamant the Breffnimen wouldn’t see any dramatic drift of players from the scene.

He was proven correct, those words of defiance backed up by Cavan currently operating with as strong a panel as at any other stage in Graham’s tenure – even the run to Ulster title glory two years ago.

“The way the lads have committed to it - the attitude that they brought towards the competition,” he said when asked what had pleased him most about the Tailteann Cup to date.

“It would’ve been very easy to down tools after the Donegal game, which probably in the past after an Ulster Championship defeat, Cavan probably didn’t approach the qualifiers with the attitude of seeing where we can end up.

“This year when we got beaten by Donegal the lads felt that a lot of work had gone into the season, and they wanted to try and just see could we finish it out and go as far as possible.

“The way they have approached it has been a breath a fresh air. It has given the supporters something to look forward - this is the time of year you train for.”

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GAA Football