Saturday 23 September 2017

Radio: It's goodbye to GAA and farewell to AA

Referee Maurice Deegan shows Jonny Cooper a black card in the All-Ireland SFC final replay Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Referee Maurice Deegan shows Jonny Cooper a black card in the All-Ireland SFC final replay Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

The GAA's decision to remove live commentary rights from Newstalk seems a strange one, to say the least. The independent station has done a really fine job with their match coverage on Off the Ball (Sat-Sun 12 noon, Mon-Fri 7pm).

As is often the way with these things, the smaller, less affluent organisation - Newstalk - had to be, and was, more inventive, clever, daring and entertaining than its larger rival, RTÉ. It's been said before, I know, but RTÉ truly does suffer some of the typical failings of a bureaucracy. The sports programming is often exemplary, but can also be lazy, bloated and complacent.

And now they're basically the only option for English-language commentary (Raidió na Gaeltachta keeps Irish-language rights), which will hardly make them any less complacent. So there's two good reasons Newstalk should have retained some of these rights: they were excellent of themselves, and they offered an alternative to listeners, and thus a kick up the behind to RTÉ.

Now I'm not going to get all hysterical about this, as people often do about sports coverage. (You know the sort of thing: moaning and wailing because the soccer panel has been changed or whatever. It's just sport, folks, relax the head a bit.)

Also, I'm not a big fan of live commentary on radio anyway. I don't see the point, unless maybe you're working on an offshore oil-rig or something, and the satellite feed is down.

But I assume lots of people like it - otherwise why would it be broadcast? - and regardless, the decision still makes little sense. Also, it has another, possibly worse consequence: Off the Ball will presumably now have to fill the show's many hours with even more coverage of soccer and rugby.

The programme already has a one-hour soccer slot every single weeknight: a devotion to the Association game unrivalled, I'd imagine, even in England herself. They have regular live commentary from Premier League games (two, no less, this Sunday - that's three full hours in one afternoon.)

They have live rugby commentary sometimes, and Monday Night Rugby and Wednesday Night Rugby run seemingly year-round - does this game never shut down? And that's just for starters: all shows, all week, are peppered with lots more soccer and rugby. In fact, I've only just remembered the weekly League of Ireland section and John Giles chin-wag.

It's all far too much. (Especially the rugby stuff. At least people actually play soccer. And it's, you know, a good sport?)

Yes, I am "biased" - my sporting DNA would be mostly GAA, with a lil' bit of soccer, tennis, snooker and whatever you're having yourself - but still. This is Ireland, no? It's hardly unreasonable to expect that Irish radio shows would lean more towards - uh - Irish games and pastimes and so on.

And now, with this boneheaded decision by Croke Park, we'll have even less GAA on Newstalk. Thank God 2017 is a Lions year, though, right? Go on you Lions - do it for the pride of, like, the top half of the planet.

What would AA Gill have made of the infernal confection of horseshit and hyperbole that is a British Lions tour, I wonder? The superb journalist has died, and BBC Radio 4, in tribute, popped up a few clips of the Sunday Times man: a 2006 appearance on Desert Island Discs, and Five Minutes With… from 2012.

As an irredeemable egomaniac, may I pay him the highest compliment: AA Gill was the only journalist of whom I didn't think, "I could do it better." Nobody did it better. Listen back, but more importantly, re-read those wonderful columns.

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