John Costigan Interview

I did it my way!  

Tuesday January 06 2009

Former County Board Chairman John Costigan spoke to SHANE BROPHY about his three years at the head of the GAA in Tipperary and gives his views on the GAA year gone-by in the county.

When one reflects on their term in any job, they will be judged on their successes or lack of in some cases.

The high point for a serving county chairman is to preside when the county’s hurling or football team wins a senior All Ireland. John Costigan didn’t have that privilege but his work in creating the platform for future success could prove to be an even greater legacy.

Two All Ireland minor hurling titles in his first two years in charge plus the rolling out of the development squads in football in 2008 shows how much work is being put into building Tipperary’s future on firm foundations according to the former Tipperary County Board Chairman.

"I felt that Tipp were not going to build castles on sand and there was marvellous work going on at underage level but we needed to really bring it up a notch and be able to win titles at minor and under 21 level as a stepping stone for the senior grade," admitted the Clonakenny native.

John was the right man to get the underage systems in place after being at the forefront of GAA activities when a teacher at both Templemore CBS and subsequently Our Lady’s College, Templemore and was at the helm when Templemore were the last Tipperary school to win the Dr. Harty Cup in
1978 and who recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the success.

"Being involved at post primary schools level for 27 years, I got a tremendous buzz out of it in terms of training teams and every September seeing new players come into the school, organising competitions despite us finding it difficult to compete against the bigger schools such as Ennis or Fermoy."

A relative novice in terms of administration within the county, his work during the creation of the JK Brackens GAA Club in Templemore in the early 1990s gave him the taste to take it to another level with Tipperary being the ultimate beneficiaries.

"I never set out to become Chairman of the Tipperary County Board," he said.

"I was a late convert to administration at divisional or county level. I was never even involved in my own division.

"In the early 1990’s when the JK Brackens club was being formed in Templemore, being a neutral there I was asked to get involved in the new club and in the end I spent nine years as Chairman. I enjoyed it, I liked the cut and thrust, I liked to be doing things and I remember the night I stepped down, they found it difficult to fill the Chair. I think its bad for anyone to be too long in a position.

"I saw myself in the early years of 2000 when my tenure in the school was coming to an close and I took the idea of having a go in Tipperary in the administration side and saw a possible vacancy for the Vice-Chair in the year that Donie Shanahan became Chairman and threw my hat into the ring and became Vice-Chairman in 2002," he said.

The role of Vice-Chairman is accompanied by that of chairman of the fixtures committee and it allowed him the opportunity to have a go at trying to streamline the GAA calendar in the county and bring to an end the regular feature of county finals in some competitions not being completed in the calendar year.

He also tried to get the Under 21 championship to be played earlier in the year and while it was successfully completed by the end of Spring between 2003 and 2005, the competition has fallen back into its old schedule of a pre-Christmas finish.

The senior championship structure has been an annual talking shop with a number of systems tried over the last ten years before the clubs voted last year to return the early stages of it back to the divisions and the former Chairman admits that he has come a fan of the new system.

"I wasn’t a firm believer in the new system. I saw it was going to have huge consequences in terms of finance for the board.

"I would agree that the new format brought a great bit of life into the championship within the divisions. There was never much problem with the North Championship; there was always a good championship. The Mid this year had its bets championship ever and to be honest, it revitalised the game in the West.

"They were crying out for it and they had a good championship there and in the heel of the hunt, you have to say the performance of Clonoulty-Rossmore in the final stages of the county series would give credence to the fact that it was justified.

"I would also say there was a great buzz at the beginning of the year as a result of the league victory, and the victory in the championship.
There was a euphoria in Tipp as regards hurling up to the 17th of August and I would attribute the final stages of the championship and the drop in crowds as much to the defeat on 17th August, it was like a deflated balloon."

Relegation was removed just ten years after it was introduced and while John Costigan saw the reasoning for it, it is unlikely to return any time soon.

"Relegation is a traumatic experience for any club that has been senior for so long and to embrace the challenge and set about putting the framework in place. The likes of Lorrha and Templederry have come back stronger than they were and that was the shot in the arm they needed.

"You have some senior clubs that are there in name only and maybe relegation would shake them up a but for now relegation is not in Tipp and there appears to be no great wish for it to be restored."

Despite Tipperary not winning any All Ireland titles in 2008, John Costigan says the year gone by had been the most satisfying being involved at the coalface of GAA within the county and better things are around the corner if the Tipperary public give the team and management the time and space to develop further.

"This year is the year I would have gotten great satisfaction out of.
Where the minor was marvellous in ’06 & ’07, the under 21 was marvellous in ’06 & ’08, in reality the only show in town from a supporters perspective is the senior team and it was a marvellous summer.

"We were carried along by the euphoria right through the league. The wins against Waterford and Kilkenny on successive Sundays, the defeat of Galway and the defeat of Cork, the Munster Final win and the scenes after showed us all what it means to win a senior hurling provincial title in Tipperary. It was nearly reminiscent of 1987 in Killarney.

"There was a huge level of expectation in the wish to get back to Croke Park on the first Sunday in September. What happened (against Waterford) was a huge downer for the game in Tipp and it will be important the management build on last year. I see 2009 as being a difficult year for the senior management as there is a huge level of expectation there and they are bound to have sticky patches in the league and it is crucial that the Tipperary public stick behind them because they have the wherewithal and the ability to bring it to the next step.

"I can go back to the ’60s and Tipp were winning All Ireland’s every second year and at that time it was expected of the team and if you were defeated in the final, you wouldn’t have known that you were even playing in the final.

"I don’t know whether it is a fault with us as a county but victory is expected in Tipperary. This is the psyche of the Tipp person," he said.

Following Kilkenny’s destruction of Waterford in the All Ireland final, many within the county saw it as a blessing that Tipperary fell at the semi-final stage to save the team from the psychological damage a likely heavy defeat would have done to a developing team but that doesn’t wash with the former chairman.

"If you look back to 1987 when Tipp had a mighty victory in Killarney and then they went to play Galway in Croke Park in the All Ireland semi-final and it proved to be a learning process.

"I would have preferred to have gotten to the final and the team having the experience of playing in one. You’d never know what could have happened. If you look back to 1991 when Tipp played Kilkenny in the All Ireland and Kilkenny were rank outsiders and only a Michael Cleary goal turned the game our way.

"The same happened with Tipperary in the 1960s when they were going to play Wexford in the final as a red hot favourites and they got the run on us on the day and beat us.

"It is difficult to say if Tipperary would have beaten Kilkenny. The Kilkenny that arrived on All Ireland day, it would have been difficult to see anyone beating them but I do believe that with no disrespect to Waterford that we would have done a bit better," he said.

Mr Costigan now steps into another role, taking over from another former county chairman, Con Hogan as Tipperary representative on Central Council in Croke Park but the reduced hands on role within the county is an aspect he will miss.

"I was a hands on kind of Chairman. I was there all the time. I liked to be there at the behest of the management teams at senior, intermediate, under 21 and minor at both hurling and football. I had a finger in every facet of the GAA in the county.

"Being Chairman was a big challenge and I did it my way. I got immense enjoyment out of it."

Leave a Reply