Wednesday 11 December 2019

Alienating armchair supporters wrong on any channel

Sky deal is ultimate pig in a poke but at least we can watch today's finals, writes Colm O'Rourke

Sky Sports will show the All-Ireland Gaelic Football and Hurling Championships after securing a three-year deal to show live matches from June 2014
Sky Sports will show the All-Ireland Gaelic Football and Hurling Championships after securing a three-year deal to show live matches from June 2014
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

It struck me after the recent Oireachtas committee meeting with Liam O'Neill and Páraic Duffy that not many of the right questions were asked.

The selling point to members of the GAA's deal with Sky was the emigrants. But if there is also now a deal to provide streaming of games online, why was there a need for Sky? And it is not free either to those people. On top of that, most of them already see the games anyway.

Last year the viewing figures for the All-Ireland quarter-finals between Monaghan and Tyrone and Dublin and Cork peaked at 630,000. On the basis that 20 per cent of homes have Sky, it means that 500,000 of those people would not see the games without payment or going to the pub. Is it worth it if, as the GAA say, the benefit in finance is just over €1m? These are the sort of questions that should have been asked. But when there is any criticism of this deal from any of us who are involved with The Sunday Game the reaction seems to be that it is expected in view of the grilling the top officials got on Prime Time. That was a bit over the top too.

Ivan Yates wrote in the Irish Independent that Joe Brolly, Pat Spillane and I had "urinated" on the deal. Such vulgarity from the man was unbecoming and really showed a lack of understanding. First of all, I had no contact with the other two men so I had no knowledge of their opinion but the most important point which he and many more miss is that this deal has no impact on RTé whatsoever. They have the same number of games as the last three years.

Strange too that some players have welcomed the deal. If Cork play in Croke Park in a quarter-final this year and it is on Sky, it will be a different story. The Cork fans don't travel to both football and hurling when the two codes have regular outings in Croke Park and who could blame them with the costs involved? The young, old and poor will again lose out. That is not for debate, it is a fact.

Maybe the GAA feel some fairy godmother will emerge to plough huge sums into the organisation on the basis of Sky's worldwide transmissions. If that is the case then they better be careful what they wish for because the players will look for some of the pot – and they would be entitled to it.

A few players have commented on the basis that there will be less negativity towards the games on Sky. Well, I have news for them: a bad game is a bad game no matter how many camera angles you have and a great game, like last year's semi-final between Kerry and Dublin, needs no dressing up.

As always, there was a simple solution. The GAA should have given all the games to Sky but made every match available to other free-to-air stations. No exclusivity for anyone. Then there would have been real competition. What we have now is the ultimate in buying a pig in a poke.

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Normally the people at the top of the GAA, at club, county board and Croke Park level, make the right decisions, but this one is wrong. It won't stop myself or anyone I know being involved in schools and clubs, although alienating a huge chunk of support at home for no quantifiable gain abroad has angered a lot of people.

Today people can watch two league finals from their armchair. It is exactly what a lot of the older generation like to do on a Sunday afternoon. The warm-up game is Donegal v Monaghan but it is much more than that. A repeat of last year's Ulster final which Monaghan won and a league meeting earlier this year in which Donegal came out on top. Both are promoted and there is a cup for the winners but you would not need any extra incentives to get flat-out effort from these two counties.

I saw both in the flesh this year in their games with Meath. Monaghan absolutely annihilated Meath, while Donegal rescued a draw with the last kick of the game in Ballybofey. On that occasion, Meath looked a better side but when Donegal cranked things up in the second half they looked powerful, although certainly not brimming with pace.

It is more or less the same panel as before and there is an old saying with horses which have had serious injuries, "They never come back". If Donegal are a force this year it will surprise me, despite how well they have done so far. I think Monaghan are more of a summer team and expect them to win today.

When Dublin play in Croke Park these days they seem to coast for quite a while before someone sounds the bugle, the fifth cavalry come over the hill and put manners on the offending opposition. The lead they have to reel in is the only subject of discussion. It makes for great entertainment but I once played for a team who always seemed to have to do the same and there are days when it does not work. The clock will beat them one day. Still, to see Dublin in full cry in the last quarter against Cork was to witness a force of nature as every player

threw themselves into the game with even greater intensity. With the Brogans, Paul Flynn, Michael Darragh Macauley, Diarmuid Connolly and a host of others lending real support, it was a performance to strike fear into the whole country. The referee did them no harm either in wrongly giving a penalty but they would have won anyway.

Last week, Dublin got the benefit of a last-minute decision which put them through to the All-Ireland under 21 final. It was only a few weeks ago in this column that I wrote about the possibility of a player taking a shot for a point and if he misses, being brought back for another try because of the advantage rule. It is a recipe for a pitch invasion and needs to be sorted out. There should be no each-way bet – if you are able to shoot then that is it. The advantage rule was not supposed to be used like this and maybe is more trouble than it is worth.

Anyway, Derry won't be given a chance by anyone which will suit them just fine. Most are probably not aware either that they have actually beaten Dublin in an earlier round. That of course was in Celtic Park and while a pitch should not make much of a difference, Dublin are a different beast in Croke Park.

Mark Lynch and Enda Lynn really carried the fight to Mayo in the semi-final and it must have been an enormous boost for Derry to win with 14 men. They will need all that spirit today and a lot more. Dublin players are fighting for places on the starting 15 and in the subs for the championship. They are ahead of the posse.

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