‘It was strange for him to come out and say what he said' – Dónal Óg Cusack’s Tailteann jibe bemuses Lake footballers

Westmeath's Kieran Martin on his way to scoring his side's second goal during the Tailteann Cup final against Cavan last year. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Frank Roche

Two of Westmeath’s Tailteann Cup heroes have launched an impassioned defence of Gaelic football’s second-tier championship in the wake of critical remarks by RTÉ pundit and GPA president Dónal Óg Cusack.

Cusack has led the campaign for more free-to-air hurling coverage on terrestrial TV, railing against recent decisions to place several high-profile Munster matches behind a GAAGO paywall.

But the former Cork hurling goalkeeper also sparked anger among the football community when he labelled the Tailteann Cup as a “sort of Gaelic football Grand National for disappointed also-rans”.

Now Ger Egan (who retired last December) and Kieran Martin have insisted the direct opposite, highlighting the many benefits for less successful counties of lifting national silverware in Croke Park.

“I think he’s an advocate of the Joe McDonagh Cup,” Egan pointed out. “It was strange for him to come out and say what he said about the Tailteann Cup.”

The former captain ranked last year’s inaugural success as “probably the biggest achievement” of his Westmeath career.

“That second competition is so, so important to the lower divisions,” Egan expanded. “There were many years when I played with Westmeath and we had two championship matches . . . you don’t train seven or eight months of the year to play two championship games, so it gives those counties the exposure. Everyone wants to walk up the steps of the Hogan.”

His former team-mate was equally bemused. “I suppose he’s standing up for his own province,” said Martin, whose stunning goal off the bench propelled Westmeath to final victory over Cavan last July.

“There are those competitions as well for the hurling, but there’s no giving out . . . you see Westmeath after winning the Joe McDonagh (in 2021), what they did there last weekend. Winning things brings teams together. If you’re just there winning your two or three games every year, it gets monotonous and you won’t have the buy-in from players.”

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