Wednesday 26 October 2016

Call off that gunship, Aogan - clumsy humour on The Sunday Game is no crime

Published 06/06/2015 | 02:30

Aogán Ó Fearghail has taken aim at what he calls a 'nasty and disrespectful side' of The Sunday Game. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
Aogán Ó Fearghail has taken aim at what he calls a 'nasty and disrespectful side' of The Sunday Game. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

As you may know, the GAA's president is more than a little annoyed with the general tone of punditry unspooling on RTE television.

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Aogan O Fearghail believes The Sunday Game is heading down dangerous ground. He sounds like a man who'd quite like the existing football panellists mummified in starch and lined up by a helicopter gunship. And it's probably fair to say he's not entirely alone here.

Maybe the worst of RTE's sins across all sports in modern times has been an indulgence of grand-standing, and Joe Brolly can certainly radiate the air of someone who loves the theatre of live television more than he loves football. His attack on Sean Cavanagh was clearly preposterous and the recent Marty-gate commotion had the air of a best man simply trying too hard to be funny.


Yet Brolly's intelligence makes him interesting and, if he is a man who could find issue with the tactical limitations of a lawn-mower, it doesn't stop him having opinions on the game that are probably better aired than not.

True, his combustible on-screen relationship with Pat Spillane can feel a little staged at times, the two of them trying to out-do one another with often asinine analogies. But O Fearghail's observation this week that Spillane's previous likening of Donegal's defence to the Taliban was "actually dangerous" sounded ever so slightly daft.

The GAA is the sound-track of the community right across this island and, no question, our summers would be profoundly greyer without it. But it would be a pity if it started presenting itself to the world now as The Department of Literal Interpretation of Otherwise Harmless Jibes.

A sense of humour should never be outlawed in the coverage of sport, even if it sometimes comes attached to opinions so skewed they seem to come from people who've just been watching a game on Google Earth.

I have never met O Fearghail, but I am assured that he is an eminently wise and pleasant man.

As a Cavan native, he perhaps took the general dismissiveness of last week's Ulster Championship game against Monaghan a little personally, and maybe Jim McGuinness' recent public admonishment of RTE emboldened him to follow suit.

But it seems worth asking what does the GAA actually want of the national broadcaster?

The relationship between the two hasn't been especially fraternal in recent times and it is hard to escape a suspicion that O'Fearghail's pull across RTE's ankles this week might have been informed by a slightly broader narrative than the occasionally loose tongues of some high-profile pundits.

His predecessor, Liam O'Neill, spoke of his "shock" last year at the treatment meted out to both him and the Association's director general, Paraic Duffy, during coverage of the latest broadcasting rights deal, suggesting that "every single one of the (RTE) interviews was aggressive."

And now O Fearghail has taken aim at what he calls a "nasty and disrespectful side" of The Sunday Game.

Does it not all sound ever so slightly po-faced? I mean are we honestly expected to interpret something like Spillane's Taliban jibe as a gateway remark to the breakdown of social order?

The worst thing the GAA can become is some kind of thought police for its people. Would we really prefer TV pundits all just chanting the same safe message like druids gathered at Stonehenge? Do we honestly need voices just chiming obedient positives in the way of well-trained budgerigars?

Seems to me that that would be the default setting of the terminally dull, not to mention the profoundly paranoid.

By all means remind people that they have a responsibility when they sit in front of a TV camera, but let's not make irreverence a crime. The GAA is surely confident enough at this stage of its existence to understand the difference between bad humour and dark subversiveness.

Yet, even RTE seems to be somehow losing its nerve here.

The official response to Brolly's admittedly crass remark about Marty Morrissey was so over-arched and stern, you'd think he'd been caught setting the man's trousers on fire.

And Marty's fine, by the way. He has never been one of those precious Montrose types who carry themselves like flowers.

Stand down that gunship, Aogan.


Galway hurlers still getting raw Leinster deal

It wasn't exactly a modern-day Gettysburg Address, but Anthony Cunningham's call last weekend for hurling equality in Leinster bristled with a palpable frustration.

Because Cunningham knows there is no real appetite to truly embrace Galway as a natural constituent of the province when to do so would inevitably come at a cost to others. The idea of playing Leinster Championship hurling in Salthill isn't merely unpalatable to those in whose gift it might be to deliver it, it probably seems positively ridiculous.

Given that today's replay against Dublin in Tullamore looks one of those games set to be decided by tiny margins, how, logically, could anyone expect the Dubs to hand their opponents an unnecessary advantage?

Given that their underage teams are still precluded from Leinster Championship competition, Galway can be under no illusions about the warmth of welcome extended to them in the province this past seven seasons.

During that time, they have had to concede home advantage for seven Leinster Championship games and accepted neutral venues for the other ten.

Second-class citizens?


Milner can help lead Rodgers back from the brink

James Milner's recruitment is surely one of the smartest pieces of business Liverpool have been responsible for in recent times.

Here, first and foremost, is a footballer joining for the right reasons, a man who, at 29, wants to play more games than Manchester City's policy of rotation will allow him.

In other words, one who covets regular football above a gaping salary and, accordingly, one who steps into a dressing-room now crying out for that very competitive fury.

But there is more to this free transfer than the simple beauty of a professional footballer prioritising the business of playing. Liverpool have many senior internationals in their number today, but few natural leaders.

Brendan Rodgers palpably needs someone who sets the highest of standards as he fights to keep his job now. Milner is an established England international, coveted at City, who still plays the game as if it matters.

It sounds simple, but too many of his new team-mates struggle regularly to achieve it.



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