Sport Gaelic Football

Thursday 18 January 2018

Managers cross line in defence of Carthy

John Greene

John Greene

BRIAN CARTHY was in the commentary box for last night's Leinster hurling championship semi-final in Wexford and Leitrim manager Mickey Moran will speak to RTE after today's Connacht semi-final in Carrick-on-Shannon -- a quite ordinary end to a truly extraordinary seven days.

On Monday, it emerged that Mickey Harte and seven other inter-county managers (later revised to six) had withdrawn co-operation with RTE over what they saw as the sidelining of Carthy, the station's Gaelic games correspondent.

Harte, as spokesperson for the group of managers and a close personal friend of Carthy's, said: "We sent some correspondence to the effect that we are very much dismayed and alarmed at the absence of Brian Carthy from major commentary roles at the moment." Harte and the other managers apparently saw Carthy as the heir apparent to Micheál ó Muircheartaigh, as the new 'voice of Gaelic games'. Carthy, presumably, also saw himself as the natural successor having served as the de facto number two for so long. But senior figures in RTE saw it differently.

The origins of the controversy can be traced back to a 12-day period last winter when the Gaelic games broadcasting landscape changed forever.

On October 30, Australia defeated Ireland by three points in the second International Rules test in Croke Park. It was ó Muircheartaigh's last commentary for RTE radio -- a staggering 62 years after his first, the 1949 Railway Cup final.

Senior figures in RTE knew that the Kerryman could not be replaced. ó Muircheartaigh was the product of a different time and like other true giants of sports commentating that we all revered -- like Michael O'Hehir, Murray Walker, David Coleman, Bill McLaren -- it was part of his greatness that he had remained relevant to a changing audience all the way through such an incredibly long career.

He had a rare gift, an ability to paint a picture on radio of the action unfolding before him, combining a wonderfully lyrical vocabulary, in two languages, with an extraordinarily precise sense of timing and, of course, a passion for the games which came across as sincere and genuine.

Twelve days after ó Muircheartaigh's last broadcast, the commercial radio station Newstalk confirmed it had secured a three-year deal with the GAA to commence live broadcasts of football and hurling championships. This was the first time that championship matches would be broadcast live by a national radio station other than RTE.

These were two landmark events -- two definitive moments which forced RTE's hand to a certain extent. In a matter of days, its radio sport wing had lost an iconic figure and its monopoly on the crown jewels of Irish sports broadcasting -- the football and hurling championships.

Sport on radio and television has changed dramatically in the last decade, not just through increased competition but also in style and presentation. Against that backdrop, there had been a growing awareness in Montrose that elements of its sports output had become stilted and jaded but sometimes it takes a short sharp shock to focus the mind and force a call to action.

As one RTE insider told me last week, "we had to start moving the oil tanker -- for that's what we are -- in a direction that's slicker".

Competition means you have to raise your game and in the face of this new challenge the station decided it would be folly to attempt to replace a national icon, to in effect attempt to mimic what ó Muircheartaigh had been doing so well for so long. His departure represented a chance to begin the process of freshening up Gaelic games coverage and to take it in a new direction. Furthermore, a pattern had been evident in recent JNLR surveys which was a cause for concern in RTE in that although their Sunday sports programme remained dominant over Newstalk, it was clear that its audience was ageing and ways needed to be found to attract a younger listenership to the station.

Carthy was informed around the turn of the year of RTE's plan to implement a new strategy this year with a rota of commentators. According to one source, he let it be "openly known he was unhappy", although he continued about his work in a professional manner.

Then, around the end of April, all the commentators RTE intended to use on television and radio were given their schedule up to the provincial finals. The circulation of this roster confirmed the station's intention to proceed with the new strategy and, aside from the fact that Carthy remained unhappy over his role, there was also some disquiet in the sports department that the policy was ill-conceived.

Still, the early weeks of the championship had gone smoothly enough for the station as the team of commentators, including Carthy, settled into their new roles. It appears now there had been rumblings in the background, but whatever about that, it exploded into the public domain last week.

Harte's intervention initially bore all the hallmarks of a loyal friend speaking out against a perceived injustice. But the dynamic of the controversy changed, however, three minutes into his interview with Mary Wilson on Drivetime last Wednesday evening.

"He is not asking to be in the place of anyone else," said Harte. "He is asking for his own rightful respected place, which he has earned over years, not to assume complete control of anything, but to get to that . . . he has earned the right to be due a share in the games that you would expect him normally to get."

These words seem to indicate that the two men had spoken about Carthy's situation in RTE. More than the words of a friend, these could be seen as the words of a spokesman acting on behalf of Carthy.

Harte is a good man, that much is obvious, hugely respected. It is likely he thought that putting his name and that of other managers who respected Carthy to a letter asking RTE to reconsider its strategy could not do any harm. It probably never crossed his mind that it would do more harm than good.

The decision to boycott the station was a misjudgement -- even if it was taken as much out of frustration that they had not yet received a reply from the director general to their letter than over Carthy's situation.

It would appear that events then spiralled out of control last week, taking on a life of their own once the stand-off became public.

The managers have now called off their action but events of the past week have left collateral damage. A line has been crossed.

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