Monday 23 April 2018

Gap growing between hurling and football analysis on The Sunday Game

The Sunday Game has been running on Irish screens since 1979
The Sunday Game has been running on Irish screens since 1979
Declan Whooley

Declan Whooley

The football championship has lived in the shadow of its hurling counterpart this summer and The Sunday Game analysis appears to reflect that particular trend.

The 2013 hurling championship was lauded as one of the finest in recent memory and this year that form has continued. Clare have already relinquished their crown after two titanic battles with Wexford, the Cats are back on song, the Rebels have claimed long-awaited silverware while Tipperary are hoping to take the scenic route to Croke Park.

Even the most ardent football followers would concede the 2014 championship has been underwhelming thus far, and it could be argued that this is an appropriate word to describe the football analysis on The Sunday Game.

Running since the Munster Hurling Final of 1979, the programme has been a mainstay in Irish households right around the country.

Since then some things have changed (panellists, the theme music before being restored, the number of games shown etc), while other things have very much remained the same, most notably its influence on the sporting public. Sending-off offences and referee performances can almost single-handedly lead to reviews while Sean Cavanagh can testify from last season the furore Joe Brolly and company can cause.

However in a Sky Sports age where fans crave as much data and information as they can possibly muster, the football analysis on the programme at times seems to lag behind its hurling peers.

Donal Og Cusack has brought a level of insight previously unseen, with Clare manager Davy Fitzgerald recently admitting that he came closer than anyone else to uncovering the Clare ‘system’ that led the Banner to All-Ireland glory last year.

His tactical awareness, breakdown of puck-out strategies and eye for detail has led to widespread praise, though he is not alone in this regard.

Liam Sheedy’s meticulous observations mean that inter-county hurling’s loss is very much the public’s gain, with former Kilkenny sharp-shooter Eddie Brennan another impressive contributor.

Cyril Farrell and Tomas Mulcahy are part of the furniture, along with Ger Loughnane. The former All-Ireland winning manager comes in for criticism for his at-times over-the-top criticism, but his forthright views make for lively debate and can detract from the fact he remains a highly knowledgeable pundit.

The depth of football coverage however doesn’t always quite match-up.

There is no doubting the fact the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Pat Spillane, Colm O’Rourke and Joe Brolly provide entertainment and no shortage of talking points in their own right, but this can perhaps mask the lack of real insight.

An astute operator, Brolly sacrifices genuine analysis in order to play the pantomime villain, complete with hand gestures and dismissive tones to all dissenting voices.

When Spillane decides against taking the bait, he can generally be seen to trot out statistics from the National League, used to reinforce the argument he is making.

O’Rourke can be seen as the voice of reason, while Tomas O’ Se has been a welcome addition to the team. The Kerry star puts across his views in an unassuming manner and is proving to be an astute choice by RTE.

Kevin McStay can also be counted on to add value on a Sunday evening, but too he is fighting a battle that the football panel are currently losing.

Similar to the action on the pitch, the hurling fraternity have the upper hand, but it is still early days for the footballers on the pitch and ex-players off it to up their game.

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