Thursday 17 August 2017

Comment: What is The Sunday Game about anymore? A sports show, or a panto?

'Editorially, the Sunday Game have a free reign in how they present the games'
'Editorially, the Sunday Game have a free reign in how they present the games'

Declan Bogue

IT was one of those press-conference questions that reporters lob into the air, hoping for a news line.

Asked if he would support Dublin manager Jim Gavin's stance on withdrawing one-to-one co-operation with RTÉ among others following their win over Westmeath, there was plenty of meat on the bone for Mickey Harte at Monday's night's pre Ulster final press launch. 

He has himself had issues with RTÉ for their crass and tasteless handling of a personal situation a few years back and since, Harte, along with the Tyrone team, are effectively off limits for RTÉ.

No doubt, RTÉ's squad of pundits having abused Tyrone players and the Tyrone team in general over the last few years, might feel like they are settling scores in print and on air. So it was hardly a surprise that Harte wasn't going to scold Gavin for his actions.

"I am sure that Jim would not need me to support him, he has done quite well on his own to date," Harte began.

"He is entitled to do what he thinks he needs to do in the situation he finds himself in, and I would accept that from him or anybody."

Then, Harte decided to go a little further, seeing as he was already in that territory.

"It is a case of do we get quality analysis or do we get sound bites? That is the big difference. You need to be sure the people who analysing our games, some people would call them celebrity analysts, they need to be really mindful of the fact that it is not about putting someone else down to raise themselves up.

"It should be about this insightful information we are sharing with people. Is there substance behind what I am saying or does it just sound good when it is Retweeted by someone who does not know much about what they read."

Is there a groundswell of opinion against The Sunday Game? Certainly, over the last fortnight and the in-bickering between pundits, it has begun to feast upon itself with over-indulgence.

Last weekend, former Kerry footballer Paul Galvin, who has found his feet as a columnist this season, stated, 'The efforts of the last two weekends prove what I have long believed. The show is a liability to the GAA and now a liability to RTÉ too.'

He recommends a rebranding exercise with new talent and a new direction, adding, 'The current offering is reductive, agenda-led and has been mired in a culture of bias for 10 years.'

Galvin's thoughts were put to Harte and he played a delightful backhand by instead complimenting the Sky Sports coverage, in particular Jim McGuinness and Peter Canavan. 

"They really tell us something different and they don’t tell us what we have all seen after it has happened, they actually suggest things that could be done to improve it," said Harte.

"They analyse the thing in specific detail and they are very good to listen to and it is not about sound bites. There is an alternative there and if people look on they can see which they would prefer to look at and to listen to."

While Sky Sports' viewing figures are a disaster, their excellent coverage has spooked the RTÉ pundits. Despite their attempts at playing it cool, they bang the drum about Sky's low figures so much that it reeks of lingering insecurity.

At this point it's fair to ask what The Sunday Game is about anymore? A sports show, or a panto?

Editorially, the Sunday Game have a free reign in how they present the games. Nobody would ever wish to diminish that, but there can be no denying that those tuning into hurling matches feel like they are part of a special occasion, while the footballing punditry fraternity fall into two groups - the smiley heads who can't quite believe they are there - on the telly like! And then a group of middle-age men who heroically forgo their spare time to tell us that everything is rubbish.

With the passing of time, they feel their roles have evolved not into talking heads that analyse games of Gaelic football, but that of social commentary.

People rightfully scoffed when Jim Gavin came out with his pearler about Diarmuid Connolly, 'Freedom of expression is one of the rights of the Republic but it's not absolute.'

But on The Sunday Game we hear woolly talk that teams should not play sweepers because we are on a, gulp, 'shared journey.' If ever a sentence needed the crying laughing emoticon to follow it, it is this.

The thing is, for most of the world work, family life, washing the car, being responsible and taking care of business is one long trip to Drudgery-Ville, population you.

When it comes to your spare time, you might want to spend it watching the games of your youth. For enjoyments' sake.

A bit of football, and a few things pointed out that teaches you the why as well as they what, doesn't go amiss.

But preaching? We get enough of that on a Sunday morning.

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