Joe Brolly: 'Viewing figures make unpleasant reading for GAA...county boards should hang their heads in shame'
Some citizens of the six counties are troubled. Why, they ask, are we excluded from answering - at €2 a pop - such ingeniously thought-out quiz questions on The Sunday Game as: Is the All-Ireland football championship trophy called a) The Arlene Foster Perpetual Trophy b) The Donald Trump cup or c) The Sam Maguire cup? Or: Are the current four in-a-row All-Ireland senior football champions a) Trinidad & Tobago b) Timbuktu or c) (with emphasis) DUBLIN.
The philosophical answer is that northerners are too well educated and would immediately know the answers to such questions as: Is Mickey Harte a) a so-called RTÉ pundit from Derry b) a singer/songwriter or c) Tyrone's manager for life?
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The standard of these conundrums is reminiscent of the quiz-master Henry Sellers in Father Ted asking the elderly contestant the question: "Is the capital of England a) New York b) London or c) Munich?" She stares blankly at him. Henry says: "I'll give you a clue, you live there."
The answer to the question for Northern viewers is that Ofcom (the Office of Communications), which is the UK government-approved regulatory authority for broadcasting, forbids The Sunday Game competitions from being available in the North. This, in turn, is because the Stormont government failed to enact a simple piece of legislation to allow it. For God and Ulster and all the rest, I suppose.
On another point, while Sky continue to refuse to release their GAA viewing figures, or should I say non-viewing figures, that other bastion of Gaelic games, the British Broadcasting Corporation in Northern Ireland, has been leaking them to the public. So, we discovered last Tuesday that Sky's EXCLUSIVE SUPER DOOPER TROOPER SUNDAY coverage of last week's very entertaining Donegal v Meath game had a not-so-super dooper average UK audience of 1,000. That is not a misprint. It is indeed, one thousand, as in 100 multiplied by 10, or half the population of Barna or Manorhamilton. I know what you're thinking and you are right. It is quite a large audience for the lads in the Sky morgue, which goes to show there is no accounting for taste.
At the time when the deal was done, and TV3's free-to-air matching offer was rejected, Paraic Duffy said it was for the benefit of the UK Gaels, a line that would have embarrassed even Boris Johnson, given that up until then, Premier Sports had been offering all of the games on TV3 and RTÉ to UK viewers for £10 a month.
Never mind our 10,000 neighbours and loved ones in Irish hospitals who can't see Sky games. Or our 110,000 neighbours and loved ones in Irish nursing homes. Or the more-than 85 per cent of the Irish population who do not have Sky Sports. What of rural Ireland, the elderly, and those struggling to keep their heads and their family's heads above water? What about the tens of thousands of kids who can't see the games? Watch it in the pub, says the GAA. It is a disgrace and the county boards of this country should hang their heads in shame, in the unlikely event they have any.
Tyrone won last weekend courtesy of Roscommon indiscipline (in total they scored five easy, close-in frees from dumb Roscommon fouls), missed chances and general lack of composure. Their confidence is frail, after being easily beaten by Donegal and then hastily abandoning the more adventurous game plan they had worked on throughout the league.
Cork, however, are not a serious opponent, and played like a team that were happy to be there yesterday. Their own confidence is frail having been relegated to Division 3 and generally having hit rock bottom, so when they went six points up with two early goals, it never felt like they would win.
They should have, but that requires composure and confidence and know-how, not just moments of great skill and five-minute purple patches. This was illustrated in the third quarter of the game when Tyrone, courtesy of a superb team goal and a needless penalty, went from six behind to one in front, which soon became three, which in turn became the final victory margin. Tyrone were shaky themselves, and have Cathal McShane and Mattie Donnelly to thank for guiding them to a nervous victory.
The Dubs, meanwhile, do not do nervous victories, and having whopped Cork by 13 points last weekend (scoring almost twice as much as Tyrone did against them), they played with their trademark merciless efficiency against Roscommon, under the watchful eye of Barry Cassidy, the only Derry man left in this year's championship. Statistically, no team has ever demonstrated such awesome scoring efficiency. Against Cork, who did very little wrong, the Dubs scored 5-13 from play out of a possible 6-16. Incredibly, they did not take a single shot from outside the 30-metre scoring zone.
In the first half against Roscommon, they posted 1-15 (a point more than Tyrone managed against the same opponent in almost 80 minutes), from a possible 1-17. Their chemistry, intelligent use of the ball and eye for the forward gamble is awesome.
Managers always exhort their teams to stay in the moment and not lose concentration. A week ago, against Cork, Jack McCaffrey scored a solo goal to bring Dublin level, and immediately turned and shouted at Philly McMahon to pick up his man. Indeed . . .
David Clifford holds the keys to the Kingdom, and this is not a metaphor. It is all well and good beating a Mayo team that couldn't beat Roscommon, could have lost to Down, and should have been beaten by Armagh.
The bottom line is that they must reformulate the game plan around Clifford. If the kid gets early ball near the scoring zone, he will seek out and destroy, as he is unmarkable. The problem is that this Kerry team is fond of a good solo run, exemplified by Stephen O'Brien, Gavin Whyte, etc. Each solo or bounce makes the inside forward run an extra 10 metres for the ball and allows the defensive cover time to retreat. Colm Cavanagh, for example, loves to see a bit of solo-running in the middle third. By the time the solo run is completed, Colm is on the edge of the square and you can forget about a goal.
Dublin have nobody to mark Clifford. In fact, no team has. He is the Bomber Liston and Maurice Fitzgerald rolled into one. I suggest they start using him. With early ball, he would put the fear of God into God himself.
Donegal, with Michael Murphy leading them, are the only other possible wild card, but like Kerry, their efficiency is nowhere near Dublin's level. People are saying the only possible way to beat them is a dull game with a Seamus Darby goal in the last minute. Any earlier and they will conjure the equaliser, then beat you in the replay.
In a few years time, The Sunday Game quiz question will be: Which Gaelic football team is going for the seven in a row. You can take it it's not Hawaii or Kilkenny.
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