Wednesday 13 December 2017

Joe Brolly: Everything that is great about the GAA can be found in the local radio broadcasts

Donegal goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley, Michael Murphy and Odhrán Mac Niallais defend a late free against Monaghan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Donegal goalkeeper Mark Anthony McGinley, Michael Murphy and Odhrán Mac Niallais defend a late free against Monaghan. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Joe Brolly

I listened to the Donegal-Monaghan game in the car, flicking between Ocean FM and Northern Sound. I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed a game of football so much.

The Monaghan men in one corner, with Nudie Hughes co-commentating. The Donegal men in the other, with past player Pauric McShea and contributions from wee Martin "Well you know like, I'm not just saying it, but I think the decision to bring on our Mark is a good one" McHugh. On Northern Sound, Nudie, initially despondent as Donegal went five up, became extremely excited when the two Monaghan goals rocked Donegal.

"Forget the Euros! Forget the Leinster Championship! Forget the Iraq War! This is a real war in Cavan tonight."

Listening to these legends of the game saying what they really meant on air was just brilliant. The passion, the bias, the honest reading of the game, is something the big networks now avoid as though it were the 'n' word.

Read more: Donegal roll back the years to dethrone old Ulster rivals

The disease of balance has almost completely conquered honest discourse on the national channels.

"No I'm sorry Joe, you can't say that about Kerry football. As you can see for yourself, the entire population of Kerry isn't in the studio to defend itself."

"Now Colm, I'm going to stop you there. Saying that Meath played well today sounds like bias and although we had hoped to have a balance monitor from the United Nations in studio, that hasn't been possible. We can, however, talk about little kittens . . ."

Not only did the lads on Ocean and Northern Sound call the game expertly, but they did so with real emotion. There wasn't a single, bland, politically correct comment. No one was currying favour with an electorate. No one gave a damn about balance. Imagine standing in a bar saying the sort of condescending, sugary stuff to your mates that is becoming the norm on the national airwaves?

"What did you think of Leitrim today Joe?"

"Well James, Leitrim played very well considering how small the county is. They certainly didn't come up to make up the numbers."

"That's very true Joe. Sligo played very well too and both teams did their best. It was just unfortunate that one team had to lose but it's the taking part that is important."

"I couldn't have put it better myself James, and in saying that I don't mean I'm capable of putting it any better."

"Well it was a little condescending Joe." "My apologies for that James, can I get you another spring water?"

So, when Donegal won the game in a breathtaking finish, the commentary team's agony at Ocean naturally turned to whoops of delight and triumphalism. As Niall McCoy is fond of saying, "Hate thy neighbour is the central plank of the GAA." Wee Martin was defiant and ecstatic. Having watched his sons and nephew play blinders, he took the mic, spoke at 100 miles an hour for a few minutes, then ran off to hug the boys. Pauric said it was a bloody nose for those who had written off Donegal.

At Northern Sound, meanwhile, the atmosphere was funereal. The problem, as Nudie noted, was that "we only have one Conor McManus." Mind you, one was nearly enough.

Watching the tape the following night, it was the pace of Donegal's running out of defence and the clever angles the runners made off the ball that was decisive. Also, their greater defensive flexibility, which combined man marking and zonal defending to excellent effect. In truth, it was a one-point hiding.

Donegal utterly dominated the game but could have lost it because of two isolated incidents. The first Monaghan goal came when McManus was lining up to take a free and four of Donegal's defenders took the opportunity to come into a huddle and have a word. As soon as they did McManus, who is quite proficient in the art of the 10-metre kick pass to an unmarked man, thank you very much, kicked the free to an unmarked man who popped it in the net. It was the most amazing thing I have seen a Donegal team do since the pre-Jimmy McGuinness era, when making eejits of themselves was par for the course.

The second was a needless foul for the penalty. It was clearly not a black card, since the player was not deliberately pulled to the ground, but it was a stupid penalty to concede since the cover was in place. A penalty for McManus is like a free high catch for Kieran Donaghy.

Then there is the mystery that is Monaghan's fighting spirit. Most other teams would have been dead and buried by the last 10 minutes, but the thought that they were in peril never seemed to enter their heads. They just kept driving on and driving on, giving the boys in the Ocean studio no peace, as they groaned and breathed in hard during the final furlong. Then, the final whistle, the cheers, the joy and the boasting.

"That's six Ulster finals in a row and no one can take that away from us.

"They said we were done and we've proved them wrong again. Bring on the Ulster final." I could imagine them in the studio, fist pumping and giving the bird towards the Northern Sound boys.

We have been wondering how to save Gaelic football. The solution is obvious. Watch it on local radio.

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