Perhaps the strongest attribute of the Irish agri-food sector is its incredible resilience. In recent history the sector has been faced with a global economic collapse, a horsemeat scandal, foot-and -mouth disease, Brexit and most recently the enormously disruptive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Ireland’s economy boomed during the 1990s and 2000s, the agri-food sector was often looked on as a ‘sunset industry’. Yet it was the growth in food exports and associated jobs that helped drive Ireland’s economic recovery post 2011.
Despite the many hurdles it has faced, Ireland’s agri-food sector continues to negotiate its way forward in a steady and resolute manner
Today, the sector is faced with a new longer-term challenge that will require even more innovation and leadership to navigate.
The sustainability agenda, be it carbon emissions, water and air quality, animal welfare or biodiversity, will be the defining challenge for the sector over the coming decades.
Yet despite the many hurdles it has faced, Ireland’s agri-food sector continues to negotiate its way forward in a steady and resolute manner.
The steady resilience of the sector is perhaps one of the reasons why you’ll find so many Irish agri-food businesses are long-standing sponsors of inter-county GAA teams.
Kerry Group has been the main sponsor of Kerry GAA since the beginning in 1991
This year marks the 30-year anniversary of when the GAA decided to allow county teams display sponsorship names across their jerseys for the first time and it is noticeable how nearly all of the longest-standing sponsorship deals are with Irish agri-food companies.
Kerry Group has been the main sponsor of Kerry GAA since the beginning in 1991, while Carroll’s Cuisine (formerly Carroll’s Meats) has been emblazoned on the Offaly jersey the same length of time.
Other noticeable relationships include the long-standing Supermac’s sponsorship of the Galway hurlers since the early 1990s, while Glanbia’s Avonmore brand has sponsored Kilkenny GAA since 1994. Irish meat processor Kepak was associated with Meath GAA for 20 years and was the name on the jersey when the county won its most recent football All-Ireland titles in 1996 and 1999.
Noel Keating (Kepak founder) absolutely loved GAA. He was a Clare man but moved to Clonee in 1981
Mick O’Dowd played with Meath GAA in the 1990s and also managed the team for a four-year period from 2012 and 2016. Today, he works as Kepak’s agribusiness development manager and remembers fondly the strong relationship between Kepak and Meath GAA over the years.
“Noel Keating (Kepak founder) absolutely loved GAA. He was a Clare man but moved to Clonee in 1981 as he was building the Kepak business,” says O’Dowd.
“Even though the Kepak name wasn’t on the jerseys until 1991, Noel Keating had been involved with Meath GAA since the 1980s. He was very good friends with Sean Boylan and his support for the team evolved from that,” he says.
“Noel and Sean were a great match because they had a lot of similarities. Noel was at the early stages of building the Kepak business and he could see that Sean was also trying to build the Meath football team,” says O’Dowd.
The close connection between the Keating family and Meath GAA lasted 20 years. Even when Noel Keating passed away in 1993, the Keating family continued to support Meath GAA up until 2005 when Sean Boylan retired as manager of the county team and are now sponsoring the Meath Ladies Gaelic Football teams.
O’Dowd says there was never a commercial benefit to Kepak’s sponsorship of Meath GAA as it is not a consumer brand.
Instead, the relationship with Meath GAA was a way for the Keating family to give back to local communities, including many of the employees and farmer suppliers to the business.
In the midlands, Carroll’s Cuisine’s sponsorship of Offaly GAA is one of the most enduring partnerships in GAA history. Although the meat business was not on the jersey for Offaly’s famous All-Ireland football final win against Kerry in 1982, the company name was on the jersey for Offaly’s All-Ireland hurling wins in the 1990s.
In total, Irish agri-food companies have been on the jersey for 10 All-Ireland football final wins and 18 All-Ireland hurling titles since sponsorship was first allowed
Unlike Kepak, however, Carroll’s Cuisine does own a consumer-facing food brand. John Comerford, chief operations officer with Carroll’s Cuisine, says he has often wondered how much value there was in continuing the sponsorship for so many years.
But he says consumers will often tell him they buy the Carroll’s ham brand because they recognise it from the jersey and they are happy to support Carroll’s because it supports the GAA.
In total, Irish agri-food companies have been on the jersey for 10 All-Ireland football final wins and 18 All-Ireland hurling titles since sponsorship was first allowed in 1991.
Kerry Group and Kerry GAA account for seven of the 10 All-Ireland football titles. As mentioned, Kepak were on the Meath jersey for its two All-Ireland wins in the 1990s, while Donegal Creameries (since acquired by Aurivo) was on the jersey for Donegal’s 2012 All-Ireland final win.
On the hurling side, Kilkenny and Avonmore have collected the Liam McCarthy Cup 11 times since their partnership began. Interestingly, Glanbia’s success extends beyond Kilkenny as Wexford Creameries, which is now part of Glanbia, was on the jersey for Wexford’s famous All-Ireland hurling final win in 1996.
Elsewhere, Supermac’s was on the Galway jersey for its All-Ireland hurling final win in 2017, while Carroll’s Meats was on the Offaly jersey in 1994 and 1998.
In Tipperary, there have been a number of different sponsors on the jersey for its four All-Ireland hurling final wins since sponsorship was allowed.In 1991, bottled water company Tipperary Water was on the jersey for their win over Kilkenny.In 2001, drinks company Finches was on the jersey, while for Tipp’s 2010 All-Ireland hurling final triumph, Enfer, the veterinary lab business, was the county’s main sponsor.
While not every company is lucky enough to be associated with an All-Ireland win, Irish agribusinesses have continued to support counties up and down the island.
Other notable sponsorship partnerships over the years include Brady’s Ham and Kildare GAA, QK Meats owned by the Queally family and Laois GAA, Devenish and Meath GAA, Larry Goodman’s ABP sponsorship of Louth GAA and Gain Feeds sponsorship of both Wexford and Waterford.
The enduring longevity of this relationship between Irish agribusiness and the GAA is testament to the resilience of both and their importance to communities in rural Ireland. And despite all the challenges facing the sector, you can expect Irish agribusinesses to collect a few more All-Ireland’s in the next 30 years.