Mickey Harte, Brian Carthy and that four-page letter to RTE
On May 23, a four-page letter arrived at the office of RTE director general Noel Curran, stating in no uncertain terms how its signatories felt about the perceived downgrading of radio GAA correspondent Brian Carthy's duties.
Attached were the names of multiple All-Ireland-winning players and managers -- from Brian Cody to Conor Counihan, Kieran McGeeney to Kevin Walsh -- and the first signature on the bottom of the fourth page was Tyrone boss Mickey Harte.
In the letter, it was pointed out none too subtly how "dismayed and alarmed" the signatories were at the absence of Carthy -- a close friend of Harte -- from commentary duties at the current time.
It was also pointed out by the disgruntled managers that RTE "should remember how good the GAA managers" had been to the station in the years that they had been covering Gaelic games.
The managers had displayed "a co-operative good nature" in their dealings with the station, all of which had "enhanced your coverage" of Gaelic games.
Thinly veiled threats or justified entreaties with which to bargain for the improvement of a friend's job lot?
Whatever Harte's motivations, and however laudable in terms of fidelity to a friend, RTE's position would remain unalterable -- they would continue to assign their duties as they saw fit.
Many are asking questions, like just why such an esteemed group of men, with so many All-Irelands between them, would opt to take on the national broadcaster in favour of a softly spoken Roscommon native with a love of country & western music.
As of last night, only one of the eight signatories had publicly accepted the invitation to back the Tyrone manager's crusade -- and even then, Leitrim manager Mickey Moran did so reluctantly. Should Moran or Kilkenny boss Cody refuse to engage with RTE this weekend, then it is clear that the boycott of post-match interviews with the station, initiated at Harte's behest last weekend, will continue.
To what purpose is unclear, given that RTE will remain unmoved.
However, should Moran or Cody engage with RTE, then Harte's protest will be seen for what it is -- a well-meaning but hopelessly misguided attempt to offer a helping hand to a friend.
The four-page letter, purportedly signed -- or at least supported -- by Mickey Harte (Tyrone), Kieran McGeeney (Kildare), Brian Cody (Kilkenny), Mickey Moran (Leitrim), Justin McNulty (Laois), Conor Counihan (Cork), Glenn Ryan (Longford) and Kevin Walsh (Sligo) was sent on May 23. Between them, as either players or managers, these men have won 21 senior All-Irelands.
Ryan, however, later said he had not authorised his name to be added to the seven other co-signatures.
"I haven't been asked one way or another whether I agree or disagree. No one has contacted me," Ryan stated.
Given that this was a complaint about a sports matter, the normal practise would have been to send such correspondence to the Sport department, as opposed to the office of the director general, Noel Curran.
"Noel would get all manner of correspondence on a wide range of matters and there's a good chance he wouldn't have seen this straight away," reveals someone familiar with the workings of RTE. "He deals with politicians on a daily basis, so this wouldn't have been the top of his priority list."
When a brief response was composed late last week, confirming that RTE would continue to assign responsibilities as it saw fit, it was prepared for a courier on June 3, but, due to the Bank Holiday, it didn't reach Harte until last Tuesday.
By this stage, a clearly impatient Harte had initiated an escalation of action by organising a post-match boycott of RTE -- McNulty and McGeeney joined Harte in refusing to talk -- and he continued his assault on RTE Radio last Wednesday, despite the fact that he had received a written response from Curran's office a day earlier.
By last night, Harte was still contemplating the managers' "valued judgment".
Mickey Harte has been to the forefront of the campaign to correct what he perceives to be a slight against a friend, Brian Carthy, whom he had expected would assume the responsibilities of the legendary Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh.
"The very time Micheál retires from that role, Brian seems to be reduced in his role when you would expect he would be upgraded," according to Harte, whose less-than-subtle approach has hardly enamoured himself to those in RTE or the wider GAA community, notably headed by GAA president Christy Cooney.
Not that this would bother Harte.
"We don't see that as muscle at all. In fact, managers are probably the people with the least muscle in the GAA. We just do our own affairs. We don't have muscle. This is a myth put out by journalists and commentators. Is it not a good thing to do -- stand up for your friend?" says Harte.
"We think a man who has been commentating for 25 years through the medium of radio should be getting a fair representation and at the moment it's not happening."
Harte says the affair is not orchestrated, but still managed to engage colleagues in a post-match boycott of RTE last weekend.
Unfortunately, Harte seems to be at the risk of confusing the personal and business.
When Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh announced his retirement last September, there was a presumption in many quarters that Brian Carthy would assume his mantle at the mic.
RTE head honchos, including newly installed head of Sport, Ryle Nugent, had other ideas, as they continued to stave off a determined assault by rivals Newstalk, who continue to dent RTE's once automatic hold on GAA radio commentary rights. Even before Ó Muircheartaigh's retirement, a tacit decision had been taken to transform the image of the lone commentator that had served the station so well for so many years.
In a changed landscape, change was needed.
In any event, RTE would argue whether Carthy was a commentator in the first place and Carthy certainly doesn't have the propensity to break off so fluently into Irish, which was a hallmark of O Muircheartaigh's. Carthy's favourite phrase as Gaeilge is Slan Tamall.
RTE insist that Carthy was and remains the station's radio correspondent for Gaelic games -- a position to which he was appointed in 1997 -- and any commentating duties are an adjunct of that principal role.
When RTE unveiled their championship coverage early last month, they confirmed that they would be installing a rota of match-day commentators, among them Darragh Maloney, Ger Canning, Marty Morrissey and Carthy.
"Although the optics might indicate that Brian was Micheál's successor, there was never a situation where Brian was the designated No 2 commentator or No 1 in waiting," says a source in RTE.
"He was always the GAA correspondent on the radio. And a very good one at that, too. And whether you like him as a commentator or not isn't the issue.
"The world has moved on and in terms of what Newstalk have been doing in terms of their commentaries, I think the guys in charge here are aware that they need to keep evolving."
An official statement from Nugent, appointed head of Sport last summer, confirmed that, "Brian was on commentary duties in Limerick on Saturday and will be again next weekend. He is still part of our commentary team."
When approached by this newspaper earlier this week, Carthy declined to comment. This is because he is contractually obliged not to discuss the matter. Carthy has instead been represented by Harte.
"Carthy is not looking to take over the show, he's just looking for a fair crack of the whip and it does not appear to be happening at the moment," says Harte.
Mickey Harte initially sought tacit permission from fellow managers to pen a letter to RTE bosses to enquire as to the status of Brian Carthy.
Few would have expected the action to have taken on such a combustible path since -- last weekend, he engaged Justin McNulty in a boycott of post-match interviews last weekend.
However, this week, Glenn Ryan has already distanced himself from the protest, while Mickey Moran, reluctantly, was the only other manager to respond to the invitation to offer an opinion on the record. Kevin Walsh (Sligo) was on a short break and could not be contacted. None of the others responded.
The respective county boards have taken a dim view of proceedings and, talking to those close to some of the managers involved, it would appear that there is an element of surprise as to how the protest has accelerated so dramatically.
"It's alright if you start writing letters about it, wondering why fellahs who are tipping away in rugby and soccer are now doing GAA instead of Brian," says one selector close to a signatory.
"You wouldn't like to see a man blackguarded, but if it's out of our control, it's out of our control. Who knows what goes on in a place of work?
"We've enough to be worrying about with our own team. It's a bit disappointing this thing has developed into protests at this stage."
According to Moran: "I've no comment. I'm concentrating on the Roscommon game at the weekend, so you can talk to Mickey Harte, he's the spokesman for this.
"Brian would be a friend of mine in GAA going back over the 25 years I've been involved.
"Again, you'll have to talk to Mickey Harte about the outcome.
"He's received a letter and he's the best person to talk to. I've enough to concentrate on with Roscommon."