GAA HQ need to borrow from Adidas playbook

In a matter of 24 hours a couple of weeks back, almost 8,000 people logged onto YouTube to watch the viral video of Kerry's Colm Cooper, Tipperary's Eoin Kelly and Dublin's Paul Brogan reciting the lyrics to "The Fields of Anfield Road" while shilling for Adidas. The perfect championship appetizer. Well, sort of. Even if it was in the context of mouthing the peculiarly bastardized version of Pete St. John's iconic song, there is nothing quite as disturbing as Irish people committing the crime of using the third person plural when talking about a soccer club in another country.

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Nobody is denying an individual's right to support an English team and it's always interesting to hear about the ecumenical sporting interests of our best players. However, the people negotiating these deals with Adidas for the inter-county stars who can't seem to be photographed without three stripes tattooed on their arms need to give their clients better advice. The money might be good but somebody needs to remind them (and their fellow-traveller Ronan O'Gara) they aren't actually from Liverpool. The club is not theirs in the same way that a Scouser would not ever describe the Kerry footballers as "we" or "us."

The suits in Croke Park must be thrilled to see some of the finest ambassadors of this generation out there promoting the sale of a new Liverpool shirt instead of the start of the championships in both codes. At a time when every county could do with more jerseys being flogged to please sponsors and generate revenue, here we have Cooper, Kelly et al doing their bit to line the coffers of LeBron James, NBA star, part-owner of Liverpool, and somebody determined to become the world's first billionaire athlete. We've certainly come a long way from the Three Stripes controversy that briefly benighted Cork hurling and football back in the mid-seventies.

There is a lesson here though for the GAA. How many Irish kids will be logging on to watch this video then posting the link to it on Facebook? Probably the same number who have checked out other viral sensations this past couple of years. The one where the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant appears to jump over a moving Aston Martin was viewed something like 7 million times on YouTube. Nike was similarly thrilled with the response to Wayne Rooney being nutmegged by some unknown teenager in another stunt short watched by kids all over the world.

Has anybody in Croke Park ever even heard of viral video? All available evidence would suggest not. It's all very well launching the new championships every May with regional gatherings of the men and women who are most dedicated to the games in each province and rather staid, formulaic press outings involving representatives of the top counties. But those are events that are only seen or read about by adults who are devotees of the codes. They'll be going to the matches anyway. Their hearts and minds have long since been captured.

We've made this point before but it needs to be made again and again until somebody in power cottons on to this fact. A congregation of suits and a sprinkling of players in a press conference is not destined to get the schoolyards humming the way something truly different might at the start of every summer.

A viral video of Henry Shefflin hurling a ball from the roof of the Custom House in Dublin through a window of nearby Liberty Hall. Or Colm Cooper kicking an O'Neill's over the bar from the roof of Croke Park. Call them gimmicks but there's a reason the largest and most successful sportswear companies in the world do these things. They work. In the 21st century, these virtual devices are necessary to fire the imagination of kids.

Nike, Puma and Adidas are all competing for the loyalty of children in the same way that the national games are up against rugby and soccer. That the best Gaelic football forward of his time was put to better marketing use this week by Adidas than he ever has been by Kerry or Croke Park offers a lesson to those fighting the good fight on behalf of the GAA. Here was one more reminder the best sports organization the country has ever seen still does a woeful job promoting its games.

Walk into any pub in Ireland over the past two weeks and the ceilings and walls are festooned with bunting advertising next Saturday's Champions' League final between Manchester United and Barcelona. There's a good chance no Irishman will figure in that game yet the bars are draped with Heineken-sponsored paraphernalia reminding everybody about the match. It's the biggest club competition in the world but the sponsors are still throwing money at getting people to watch. In stark contrast, the GAA woefully undersells hurling and Gaelic football every summer.

Instead of being angered by the sight of three of its best and brightest shilling for Liverpool FC, Croke Park employees should be busy looking to borrow from the Adidas playbook, to copy just these type of initiatives. Soccer may be the biggest marketing juggernaut in the sports world but the GAA can at least try to compete with it by using the very same weapons to attract children to its own codes. The wonder of modern technology is that it's cheap and available to everybody. The viral video of Cooper and his pals wasn't exactly a Hollywood special effects production.

"When you go home tonight, put on your Newcastle Brown Ale shirt and take a good look in the mirror," said former Wexford hurling guru Liam Griffin, speaking to a group of schoolchildren in the county shortly after leading his team to the 1996 All-Ireland hurling title. "Then take it off and put on your purple and gold jersey and look again. Ask yourself: 'Which one am I?'"

The reference to the shirt sponsor may be dated. The question remains as relevant now as it was then.