Nothing defines place in Ireland quite like the All-Ireland football final. For those outside Ireland, Gaelic Football may seem like a niche sport but here it’s a big deal, and the annual final the pinnacle event. Last week – the 2021 final took place between Counties Tyrone and Mayo and the victors (Tyrone) are still celebrating.
Gaelic football is a grassroots sport, driven by localism and community. Every village and town has a team and a role to play with the best players making their way to the County level. Community comes together to fund raise for local facilities, travel and training. There is a strong local ethos as well as a national governing body in the form of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA).
I can’t claim to be an avid follower, but when your County makes the final, like everyone else, follower or otherwise, I was jumping on the support bandwagon. Unlike (the other) football, there’s no question or choice about which team you might support. You support your local and County teams. Loyalty to place is everything. Love and pride of place (topophilia) comes to the fore. The prize is not just the cup, there’s a sense of validation, not just for the sporting achievement but recognising all the community actors that made it possible. It’s a collaborative approach – highlighted by the not one –but joint management partnership that Tyrone has, in itself a fairly unique approach reminding us that no one individual has a monopoly of wisdom. The managers themselves commented “that everyone is expected to play their part, no-one’s importance is increased or diminished”.
So, should it be with place in the round. In our place promotion efforts, we’re a team. Collaboration and lack of ego helping to achieve the right results for city centre regeneration, investment and tourism.
Place branding experts could only dream of pushing out a brand as successfully as the County Team brands. Emblems, flags and county colours adorning cars, houses, town centres, commercial premises and public art. Football tops on the old and young. A sea of red and white in Tyrone and Green and Red in Mayo.
This event is also a great indicator of place perception and personality. The winners were not expected to make it to the final and the rhetoric was around resilience and determination. For the losing team, the was a strong narrative pre- event about “the curse of Mayo” which I’m sure from a sports psychology perspective is not helpful. The curse is not just a reference to the fact Mayo haven’t won the Cup in 70 years despite a few near misses, but that they will not be able to do so due to a rumoured curse a disgruntled priest bestowed on the last winning team in 1951. Bonkers perhaps but authentic to heritage, especially the power of the Church in rural Ireland at that time and the general culture of legends and storytelling in Ireland more broadly.
The All Ireland final also speaks to place competitiveness. Local rivalries are not always pretty -in fact they can be petty and nonsensical. We live on a small island and there is more to connect us than divide us. Our places have differences but there is a unifying culture. That’s something that’s part of the game in place marketing too. Collaboration or “co-opetition” can produce better results. We want our towns and cities to be winners. Working together makes it easier and we can always learn something from our rivals.