Monday 19 March 2018

It's time for Gaelic games to get with the programme

Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

Club finals deserve greater air-time but the GAA must do more to make it happen, says Colm O'Rourke

It is quite amazing how exercised people can get about club games. For most, county matches are something which can cause a great outpouring of joy with a win in the All-Ireland, but is still not as personal as the local scene.

Every savage loves his native shore, I suppose, and the importance of club finals was brought home to me in no uncertain terms over the last few weeks with the number of complaints I received about the lack of coverage on RTE sports bulletins after the main news at 6.0 and 9.0 on Sunday evenings.

Obviously people feel that because I work on The Sunday Game I should have at least some knowledge, if not influence, on what is happening with the sports news. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I did watch the news with interest last Sunday evening to see what was bugging people so much. There was a great round-up of sport, goals from Premier League matches, rugby, triathlon and some more and then it came to the GAA. I assumed that if the scores of all county finals were not given that at least all the winners would be read out. Instead, viewers were advised to go to RTE's website to get all the scores.

Anyone with a semblance of knowledge should understand that county finals are huge occasions locally but many supporters are also interested to know who wins in other counties, especially neighbouring ones. For old people in particular asking them to go to the website is not on. It would have taken 30 seconds to run through the scores from all the county finals. Having looked in for myself I can understand fully the annoyance and it will be interesting today if the emphasis changes.

Then there is the dedicated RTE website for GAA information. Last Sunday, the news was a week old and again there was no news of county finals until very late. The big complaint I hear about this website is that scores from games at the height of the championship are updated very slowly and this applies especially to Saturday qualifier matches in the summer when there may be a big number on at the one time. Anyone who stands on the terrace at one of these matches knows very well that the main topic of conversation at half-time is how the other matches are going as people use their phones to try and access up-to-date information.

One has to be very careful about using words like deserve and responsibility when discussing whether or not GAA information, and especially results of matches, should be on the main news. Many would argue that the GAA should not enjoy any privileges relative to other sports in terms of coverage and that all sport should be judged on its merits. There are those who baulk at the notion of the GAA having a special position as this conjures up images of other organisations who had this sort of status in Irish society which led to corruption and abuse. So we make haste slowly here.

If you completely disregard the fact that Gaelic sports are the national games, something which many would be happy to do -- and every sport has its share of bigots -- there must come a point where broadcasting should reflect the general interests of the viewing public. As such it would hardly be an exaggeration that the results of club matches would have at least as much relevance as some Premier League matches which have no special interest as the main clubs were not involved. It is certainly not unreasonable for GAA people to expect that the national broadcaster should give a minimal amount of coverage to the national games in terms of results.

The wider question about coverage of club and county league games in general, whether through live broadcasts on RTE or some type of highlights programme, is something which can only be sorted out at a much higher level as this involves the particular contracts which are negotiated between the GAA and all the interested TV companies. There is a balance to be struck between the maximisation of revenue, the need to look after Irish language broadcasting, where TG4 do a very good job, and the promotion of the game to the biggest possible audience. And the idea that being stuck with one broadcaster in the past tied the hands of the GAA in a big way.

Whatever about some or all of these concerns, it still does not make sense that the GAA has no presence live on RTE for seven months of the year apart from the club finals in March. The splitting of contracts is at its most ludicrous on All-Ireland final day in both hurling and football when TV3 cover the minor match and RTE take over for the senior.

Not only that but the RTE coverage starts before the minor match ends. That is in nobody's interest. Neither is the situation

which can arise for quarter-finals where two matches on the same day can be on different channels. And to complete the mess there are league matches on pay-per-view channels. This is something which the GAA at central level must sort out.

For many years, and long before TG4 started to cover county finals or Setanta took on league games, I advocated that RTE should have a programme to cover matches from all competitions. I did not argue that point from any degree of self-interest but rather in using the best medium to promote the games to the biggest audience -- even if it cost money to do so.

Naturally, promoting such a programme and not claiming any self-interest may remind some people of the riposte from Mandy Rice-Davies, a very nice young lady, who was involved in the Profumo affair in Britain in the 1960s. When Lord Astor in court denied any involvement with her, she brought a great deal of laughter to the court with her reply, "Well he would say that, wouldn't he?" Perhaps the same applies to me and The Sunday Game but some such series on some channel at a time which does not undermine attendances at games and which consistently charts the story of the GAA is very desirable.

In the meantime, it would be good to at least get the results of all the big games around the country at 6 o'clock on a Sunday evening.

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