Monday 19 August 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'TV schedules present more evidence of provincial football's fading appeal'


Kilkenny hurling boss Brian Cody. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Kilkenny hurling boss Brian Cody. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

If the provincial football championships needed a reminder of their slipping status, it comes in the choices made by the TV executives that have been confirmed over the last number of weeks.

Yesterday RTÉ announced their schedule for the summer, not long after Sky confirmed their running order for the hectic summer ahead. And for the second championship season in a row provincial football finds itself very much in the back seat as the summer gets up and running.

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The numbers make for stark reading for football fans expecting to see big-ball games on their screen in the early part of the season.

Back in 2017, RTÉ and Sky Sports covered 12 of the 25 provincial football games prior to the four finals between them, just under half of the total number of games. This year, they will show just three between them.

There are mitigating factors of course. The changes to the football and hurling championships have had a knock-on effect.

More games across a tighter schedule means there was always going to be casualties. Last year the Ulster quarter final between Monaghan and Tyrone - two of the better teams in the country and, as it turned out, a precursor to one of the All-Ireland semi-finals - didn't make the cut for live television.

The decision was taken that football coverage was heavily weighted towards the back end of the season when the heavyweights clash in the 'Super 8s'.

Add in the fact that the round robin systems in hurling were an unqualified success in their first season and the choice for RTÉ and Sky was a straightforward one.

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Even allowing for the fact that Sky are showing two provincial matches this year having not broadcast a football match in 2018 until the second round of the qualifiers, the big ball game is very much playing second fiddle.

For example, the Leinster SF Championship has been a procession in recent years and the semi-finals in the eastern province have been overlooked in favour of the hurling clashes between Brian Cody's Kilkenny and Galway and Limerick and Clare.

On the basis of last year's epic hurling championship, it's easy to see why.

The most competitive of the provincial football championships, Ulster, sees two of its games televised with Cavan versus Monaghan and a potential semi-final between Tyrone and Donegal set to be played in front of live TV cameras.

The other game is out west with the New York or Mayo against Roscommon or Leitrim game on May 25 rounding up the last of the football action before the finals. The other games in Leinster and Munster have been ignored.

In contrast, 12 of the 20 provincial hurling games will be covered live.

Over the same weekend, double the number of hurling matches (six) will be shown live on TV.

That number rises to nine when the first weekend of TV action is thrown into the mix.

It's difficult to argue against those choices given the quality of fare on offer in the respective codes last year.

And things improve dramatically for football supporters as they year goes on with a handful of qualifier games set to be shown live as the threat of elimination from the competition returns. It's likely that all of the Super 8s games will also be broadcast.

The current TV deal runs until 2022 and allows for 55pc of matches to be televised live by RTÉ or Sky Sports. The change in structure since that deal was agreed allows for an increase in the games that could be televised.

However, the indications are that Croke Park are content with their arrangement just now, meaning armchair football supporters are set to be left short in the early part of the summer.

Irish Independent

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