Sky play it safe with big-name analysts
Canavan, O'Connor top bill as new boys unveil stellar line-up to complement hi-tech coverage
Jamesie O'Connor and Peter Canavan will begin training next week to learn how to maximise the technology that will drive Sky Sports GAA coverage over the next three years.
The pair were unveiled as part of the Sky Sports GAA team in Croke Park yesterday where Sky Sports News anchor Rachel Wyse and Brian Carney, the former Munster rugby player who was on the 2007 Irish World Cup squad and now fronts their rugby league coverage, were confirmed as co-presenters for their 20-match live package this summer.
Irish International Rules manager Paul Earley and former Tipperary hurling boss Nicky English are also involved as part of Sky's core analysis team and are likely to act in a co-commentary capacity to commentators Mike Finnerty and Dave McIntyre, who have worked with TV3 and Setanta in recent years.
O'Connor and Canavan will familiarise themselves with the technology – so they do can something along the lines that Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher do with the soccer – and work with Carney, who has used the technology in a rugby league context that Sky are hoping to deploy for Gaelic games.
Representatives of Sky Sports were not specific about the kind of technology they would deploy to cover their live package, which begins in Nowlan Park on June 7, but interactive touchscreens and slow-motion cameras are a strong feature of their coverage of other sports.
"We're trying to marry the polished technology that you see on Sky Sports along with the expert analysts that we have employed," said the head of Sky Sports production, Steve Smith, yesterday.
"One of the reasons why we are bringing Brian into the team is that he has worked with a lot of the technology we will be looking to employ within the GAA.
"He will be able to drive that in the early period. But we also know that the analysts have got that desire to use the technology that we can employ, just to give a greater understanding of what's going on."
Sky's match coverage will last for around three hours and is expected to be broadcast mostly on Sky Sports 3. A highlights package will be shown on Wednesday night but will not initially contain analysis and will use commentaries from RTE for matches Sky haven't covered live themselves.
Smith, who has worked with Sky Sports for 20 years, estimated that they may add up to seven extra cameras to the "12 or 13" that may already be used on big match days by the host broadcasters to give an extra edge.
All the analysis will be done 'on site' at the venues where the matches are being played.
It is planned to position the main cameras for the Nowlan Park opener in a way that will cut out the view of the stand which is still roofless after the violent storm that damaged it so badly in February.
Smith also stressed that they would not be "dumbing down" their coverage to cater for UK viewers who may not be familiar with the product.
He estimated that Sky Sports News has a regular audience of two million viewers but the number of Sky subscribers in the UK is thought to be over 10 million.
Giving a "greater insight" into the modern game will be a priority, he stressed.
"We would like to get to a point where we're getting better insight from the players as well as our analysts, to give the fans a greater understanding of what's going on, rather than going down the route of cliches about character, shall we say," said Smith.
For their cricket coverage, players regularly talk through moments with the analysts post-match on pitchside, and that is something that may be explored.
"I spoke to Bernard Brogan last week and he was talking about what an important role within the team the analysts play. We need to bring that to light. That's the thing that we want to be able to talk about: the way the formations are being changed through the game, how they are setting out in the first place.
"These are the questions that I am asking without knowing the answers. The guys that we have got are going to give us the answers to those questions."
Sky are expected to add to their team analysts in the coming weeks, with former Galway hurler Ollie Canning among those now expected to be on board.
Smith said he did not expect "teething problems" with their production, despite issues around name pronunciation on Sky Sports News in the initial stages.
Ultimately, Sky have gone for safe hands in their choices of analysts. All four have worked for TV3 over the last six years, while Earley and English have been Setanta Sports regulars during the leagues.
Smith said previous experience with MUTV was important in developing Neville as their main soccer analyst.
"He had a lot of experience in terms of TV experience before he came to Sky Sports because he worked a lot with MUTV. He had done a lot that not a lot of people had seen," he said.
"When Gary came to Sky Sports he had the platform and technology to be able to bring that to life and that's where the guys that we have brought on as experts have got that experience under their belts to try to develop.
"For someone who is completely new to TV at the same time as launching a new strand for Sky Sports, that would have been a double challenge."
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