Wednesday 21 February 2018

Colm O'Rourke: The Sky Sports deal has gone badly wrong and viewer figures reflect that

Great teams win with 1-16 or more in the knockout games. Can Monaghan get that? I remain an admirer but a Doubting Thomas
Great teams win with 1-16 or more in the knockout games. Can Monaghan get that? I remain an admirer but a Doubting Thomas
Colm O'Rourke

Colm O'Rourke

However stodgy the fare, the paying public just can't get enough.

In the world of marketing, the GAA must be king. In this era of sales promotion and the marketeers' language of product and promotion, nothing matches football. The product can be truly awful at times, there is very little in the way of promotion, yet the number attending games continues to rise. Imagine what the figures would be like if the competitive structure was fair and counties were playing more than one or two games at home in summer. Even at that, as we stagger on to near-certainties in many games, the crowds just want more.

What that reflects is the position of goodwill that the GAA holds in almost every community. It is a position which should not be abused. The Sky deal is one instance where the central authorities got it badly wrong, and the viewing figures reflect that. Nobody is watching on that channel; if Dublin and Kerry met in a quarter-final and it was not on free to air TV, then the complaints would start again in earnest.

When Central Council met recently there were no dissenting voices about the Sky deal. Do they live in the real world or have they all decided they had better just ride out the three years and move on? At that stage there will be a mess of feathers from chickens coming home to roost.

And while the GAA caters for men, women and children from every background in a spirit of giving and not looking for anything in return, the organs of State and Nama effectively undo its good work. The biggest land bank outside Communist-controlled countries is being handed away to foreign hedge funds in the greatest transfer of wealth ever in a democratic country. The Spawell site will always be the landmark monument to stupidity when buildings start to appear there. One group, Nama, seemingly wilfully ignorant of the value of sport and recreation, and at least one Government Minister who does not care to intervene. Dublin GAA supporters should be marching in protest. The practice, albeit not the policy, with this body (Nama) is Anybody But Paddy.

Just as well there are games, even if the entertainment value is low. Somebody should carry out a survey of supporters and ask what they want from the matches they attend. Top of the list would probably be that their county is competitive and it might surprise many if quality was well down the order. That is the only logical conclusion to be drawn from this year's Ulster championship. The games were in general poor, but the crowds went way up.

In Monaghan last week the general view was that it was a brilliant Ulster final. And it will be exactly the same when clubs win championships over the next few months. Who will care about continuous handpassing, backpassing, or no kicking then? Success covers all cracks.

Monaghan are the success story of the last five years, a period of gradual progress on almost all fronts. I have used the phrase before about Monaghan getting maximum return from their resources and it is absolutely true. Yet the big prize may still elude them as a very good system of play will fail when they meet better players with a similar system. Monaghan will rely on winning low-scoring games in Croke Park; it most likely won't work. They need to smuggle in a couple of forwards to help Conor McManus. Great teams win with 1-16 or more in the knockout games. Can Monaghan get that? I remain an admirer but a paid-up member of the Doubting Thomas club.

Donegal went home with, as Kavanagh wrote, "head low with many apologies". A game for the taking and they fluffed their lines in similar fashion to the All-Ireland final. Better always to be beaten by ten than one and Patrick McBrearty had that chance. Yet he was the one who kept showing and carried the fight to Monaghan in the second half along with the McHugh brothers and Frank McGlynn.

The contrast with Donegal and Sligo is striking. Sligo beat Roscommon to get to their provincial final while Donegal had great battles with Tyrone, Armagh and Derry. Then along came Monaghan. It was death by a thousand cuts.

Some of the big players for Donegal may not have played their best football: Neil Gallagher was very quiet, Michael Murphy looked injured and Karl Lacey was not the force of old. It may be premature to write them off but since the start of the year I have maintained that Donegal did not need the distraction of the back door.

It is a purely mental thing: a team on the way up can get momentum in this way but I could not see many Donegal players having any great enthusiasm for this journey. And they are at their most vulnerable in the first game so Galway are in with a big chance.

Mayo did what everybody knew they would do, except they did it with greater efficiency and ruthlessness than expected. The move of Aidan O'Shea to full-forward is obviously working but Mayo have a lot of very good physical, mobile players. Around midfield they now have Tom Parsons and Seamus O'Shea, with Barry Moran in the wings. That is good enough for any team but the O'Connors will have to keep scoring big if the defence keeps leaking. Even with an extra man back on Sunday, Sligo scored 2-11 and it could have been a lot worse. The new Mayo management need to earn their corn by sorting this out as the rest of the moving parts are entirely solid.

In Killarney on the previous Saturday evening, normal service resumed in the rain. Cork had their chance in the first game; Kerry always had the potential to learn more and also have a better squad of players. Afterwards I met Bomber Liston, Ogie Moran and Sean Walsh, who know a thing or a thousand about winning.

Present Kerry players David Moran and Tommy Walsh, joined their families later and even in the midst of joy and success there is also the disappointment for Walsh of not featuring on the team at any stage. David Moran was a rock in the middle of the field for Kerry as he has been in most of the big games recently, and himself and Anthony Maher will be hard beaten in that area.

Kerry are extremely well managed and there is very little emotion in decision making. Kieran Donaghy was not playing well so he was off. Nothing personal, just the business that needed to be done. The Gooch comes on and the style and mood changes but there is no guarantee he will start the next day. Eamonn Fitzmaurice, straight and dispassionate, seems to have provided a framework where players can excel, but hard decisions are not shirked. Is there any other management who would leave Gooch on the line for so long? Hard to see anything other than him pulling himself off the leash when he gets to Croke Park. Maybe Tommy Walsh too.

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