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Don't shoot Sunday Game messenger

EVERYONE loves The Sunday Game. Well almost everyone. And the few who don't (quite a few hailing from Kerry this week, as it happens) simply love to hate the weekly diet of Judge Judy, GAA-style.

It's a measure of the influence exerted by RTé's flagship GAA programme -- the Sunday night highlights show -- that reporters working at the Leinster hurling final in Croke Park were less animated by the match they had just witnessed and more exercised by the big question of the day: "Just how will The Sunday Game tackle Tomás?"

That tells you a couple of things. Firstly, the Leinster hurling final -- and more especially Galway -- did little to stir the soul.

Secondly, RTé is now perceived to have a major role -- for better or worse -- in dictating the debate about all things disciplinary in the GAA. Even when it isn't actually covering the match in question 'live'.


TV3 had the live rights to Sunday's Munster football final and, in fairness, Matt Cooper & Co didn't shy away from highlighting Tomás Ó Sé's serial misdemeanours against Limerick's Stephen Kelly.

Yet still, it was almost as if the public at large wanted to reserve judgement until they had seen -- or more precisely heard -- what Messrs Tohill and McStay had to say on The Sunday Game that night.

The two studio panelists didn't disappoint. They called the three incidents as they saw it. The were rightly critical of the Kerry wing-back but equally didn't spare referee Pat Fox for his failure to brandish a yellow card for Ó Sé's initial blatant foot trip on Kelly -- the studio consensus being that if the player was booked then, the latter flashpoints probably would not have happened.

Ergo, in a perverse way, the referee's lenient approach may ultimately conspire against a player now facing the possibility of a retrospective ban based on video evidence.

At this point, a few points worth making. This column loves Tomás Ó Sé -- the swashbuckling way he attacks the ball, the pinpoint delivery of his foot-passing, and especially the way he bursts up the right wing to kick one of his trademark points on the run.

Last year, he got our vote for Footballer of the Year but a majority went for his colleague, Paul Galvin, instead. A close call; nothing to lose sleep over. And now Kerry's defence of their All-Ireland crown could conceivably be undermined by the disciplinary travails of their two best players in 2009.

Galvin missed the Munster final on Sunday because of . . . well, you know why. The video caught him out. Now the same video could catch out Tomás.

This will doubtless fuel the siege mentality of certain Kerrymen, maybe even within the inner sanctum of Jack O'Connor's dressing-room. They might blame RTé -- or even TV3 -- for all their problems.

Aggrieved Kerry folk will cite a lack of inconsistency, in TV's alleged failure to pinpoint other transgressions. They will accuse the CCCC of reacting to an agenda set by RTé when, in reality, we all know that there would be no media furore to begin with if players simply behaved themselves.

Suffice to say, RTé is perfectly entitled and moreover obliged to preserve an independent editorial stance on these matters. Even more so in the face of alleged threatened boycotts (it was instructive to note that Jack O'Connor was interviewed for The Sunday Game but no Kerry players appeared on camera).

It should also be noted that neither McStay nor Tohill belong to the motor-mouth brigade of punditry. McStay was most critical of the late elbow on Kelly (as he scored a point), viewing it as a red card offence. Tohill reasoned that "nine times out of 10, in real time it's a yellow" but when you see the incident slowed down, he could see why a red would be awarded.

Of course, the red never came and both pundits were keen to stress the referee's role in letting such matters develop. McStay was amazed that no yellow was brandished for the initial foot trip, saying: "That's the inconsistency that's driving people cuckoo."

Tohill echoed this viewpoint, suggesting that Ó Sé would not have made the second tackle and certainly not the third if he had been booked in the first place.

"What players will do, when you're in the heat of the battle out there, you will take your signals off how the referee is refereeing the game. And if you think you can get away with a physical approach, then you will take that advantage," the Derryman outlined.


All of this was entirely plausible, and not the kind of debate that should spark allegations of a witch-hunt. Equally, Sligo folk may quibble with Tohill's comments regarding Eamonn O'Hara's apparent stamp on Galway forward Eoin Concannon -- but there would be no talk if the incident didn't happen.

Ditto with the hurlers of Wexford and Tipperary: Michael Duignan correctly identified the unseemly helmet-grabbing spat between Stephen Banville and the consequently injured Declan Fanning for what it was: "If you saw 10-year-olds at this, you'd be disgusted with them. For kids looking in, this looks terrible."

The latter formed part of a wider discussion about the apparently growing and potentially dangerous new trend of hurlers grabbing the helmets/face guards of a direct opponent. Here we had The Sunday Game setting the agenda, based on weekend events -- as it should be.

Our one big gripe, however, is with the programme's penchant for reading out emails from disgruntled supporters keen to highlight such incidents. Some of the language used is intemperate and at times, you could argue, bordering on libelous. The messenger can still get the message across without pushing the 'free speech' envelope too far.