Wednesday 25 April 2018

Tomás Ó Sé: Nobody goes on to The Sunday Game with an agenda

Paul Galvin knocks referee Paddy Russell's notebook to the ground before being sent off in 2008 (SPORTSFILE)
Paul Galvin knocks referee Paddy Russell's notebook to the ground before being sent off in 2008 (SPORTSFILE)

Tomás Ó Sé

There was a time in the Kerry dressing-room when we reckoned Johnnie Cochran himself couldn't save you from suspension if 'The Sunday Game' decided to go after you.

Judge and jury, that's how we saw the TV boys. If they said you were a sinner, the CCCC almost inevitably agreed. It was like the delivery of a Papal directive. Now I never felt, personally, that I was wronged by anyone in the RTE studio, but there were nights I'd bristle over the treatment of others.

The day in 2008 when Paul Galvin slapped that notebook out of Paddy Russell's hand particularly comes to mind.

Now, there was no condoning what Paul did, but he was hung, drawn and quartered that evening without anyone showing the remotest interest in exploring what it was that made him so mad. I turned the TV off, couldn't watch it. If I'd left it on, chances were I'd have ended up flinging something through it.

Put it this way, Paul got absolutely dogged by his man in that game against Clare and I have a memory of him trying on a number of occasions to draw the linesman's attention to what was happening and being completely ignored. In my own head, I was actually admiring his restraint. Because the pit-bull inside of me would probably just have responded by delivering a box.

His second booking seemed to be for the misfortune of having both arms pinned to his side by a man who was being openly encouraged by his team-mates to 'hammer into Galvin'. Paul was Kerry captain the same day by the way and, as such, surely entitled to ask for an explanation of what exactly he had done wrong.

But Paddy completely ignored him.

I could see why that had Galvin bulling. He was just coming back from a long-term injury that had wrecked his year before and was desperate to make up for lost time. The captaincy meant a lot to Paul, he wanted to be a real leader for Kerry that year. But his game was over now and the officials wouldn't even make eye-contact with him, let alone provide an answer.

So something flipped in Galvin that evening and a notebook went flying.

And the boys on 'The Sunday Game' went after him as if he'd taken a machine gun to an orphanage. He'd get a six-month suspension (subsequently reduced to three) for damage inflicted on Paddy's notebook and, sitting at home that night, I'd have to admit that I considered the boys in the pundits' chairs as some kind of alien species.

The idea that I'd some day become one of them? Nah, not a hope. I suppose I took the Mick McCarthy view of things. You were either inside the tent p*****g out, or outside it p*****g in.

But here I am, now into my second season of holding court from the TV chair. And the experience has changed a few personal preconceptions. One thing I can categorically say is that there is no gratuitous appetite for controversy. Nobody goes on air with an agenda.

To me, having that seat is a privilege. In Ventry, 'The Sunday Game' was an absolute fundamental of our childhood summers and I have a fixed image in my head of Michael Lyster in beige sports jacket under a big, brown Tarzan mop of hair and the elders in the room telling us to "whisht up" so they'd hear what he was saying.

The sitting-room was a kind of holding pen for us back then because we'd sit watching the programme in our full playing-gear, poised to go bolting out the back door the moment the closing credits came sliding down the screen.

And out we'd charge with this great, guttural roar, often scattering potted plants before us, ready to go through any man and, if need be, ditch for the All-Ireland we'd be chasing in the garden.

I was a very one-dimensional person as a player. Always consumed by the next game, the next opponent, endlessly keeping my head down and avoiding interaction with media as if they were lepers with open sores.

I remember trying to grab a quick hold of Galvin that day in Killarney, just as he was handed his marching orders. I was afraid he might do something stupid. Why? Because every one of us felt his frustration at that moment. When I saw him sweep around in exasperation, I thought the linesman might be in for it.

But Paul was only trying to get off the field as quickly as he could, seething but resigned.

So I was never an obvious candidate for this job and I've had to learn on the run in that sense, watching naturals like Kevin McStay, Ciarán Whelan and Dónal óg Cusack, trying to pick up their thought processes if you like and the angles from which they come at analysis.

I'm loving it now and, I hope, embracing the job with as much commitment as I did my time inside the whitewash. And I've found it isn't maybe as straight-forward as it might sound. I mean you're not there just to talk through replays of spectacular scores. They want you to probe deeper, to offer some kind of insight that might not be instantly accessible to the naked eye.

At the height of summer, there could be four matches on a given weekend you're being asked to analyse so you pick out a few incidents from each and identify them to the magician on the video computer. If the communication with him or her isn't spot on, there's a fair chance you'll be left looking like a bit of a clown on live TV.

So there's big trust there. Big commitment to make things work.

I might arrive in Donnybrook at 11am, but I'll still be there 12 hours later. And, if I have two main gripes, they'd have to be the food and the travel. The RTE canteen is a holocaust on good dietary habits, so I tend to bring my own lunch. But that's never enough and, at some point, I'll end up horsing into a plate of stuff I shouldn't.

And the late night drive back down south isn't a ball of laughs either, knowing I'm due in class first thing the following morning.

That said, I love the craic with Des and the lads (I might bring up half a dozen shirts to get them ironed in the costume area) and let's just say the night I wore the dickey bow was just meant to be a bit of a pre-programme skit that carried onto the air. It took me over an hour afterwards to wade through the reaction on Twitter.

There's been the odd belly laugh too like when that pregnant bluebottle took a shine to Anthony Daly's forehead and the occasional gasp like on the evening Joe Brolly blackguarded poor oul' Marty.

But - trust me - we take this job very seriously.

I know I don't have all the answers but I've gone through just about everything a man can go through on a GAA field. And hopefully that qualifies me to, at least, give an opinion. What I'm offering isn't gospel, I know that better than anyone. And I'm especially aware of how easy it is to come across as a bit pious on the TV.

I'm doing my best to avoid that because I know full well just how galling that can be to those in the firing line. That said, I have a responsibility to say it as I see it too, even if I know some old friends don't especially like that. So be it. I'm inside the tent now.

FóGRA (1): Last weekend suggested to me that Tyrone will be a force this year. Their defence, fast, direct counter-attacking and ravenous hunger all proved far too much for Derry. Now you obviously need a certain quality of footballer to carry a game-plan out with that kind of aplomb, but pace and hunger should be accessible to any group.

Yet, maybe 85 per cent of inter-county teams seem to play a slow, lateral game that is so easy to defend against. To me, that's inexcusable. There's a lot of management teams out there just not seeing what they need to see.

For the games this weekend, I'm predicting victories for Cavan, Tipperary and Clare.

FóGRA (2): I was desperately saddened last week to hear of Joe McDonagh's death. To me, he represented something far more intrinsic to GAA life than could ever be defined by the plain title 'former President'.

Joe had something truly special about him. You always felt talking to him that he was genuinely interested in you, that he wasn't just ticking a box. Maybe the fact he was a gaeilgeoir helped, because we always spoke to each other in Irish.

When we won our first county title with An Ghaeltacht in 2001, he came down to our medals' presentation and gave the most remarkable speech without accessing a single note. We were absolutely spellbound by his knowledge of our club and its history. You could have heard a pin drop.

He stayed the whole night with us, telling stories, singing songs, just being this lovely, open man who had time for everybody. The last time I spoke to Joe was outside The Crown in Cricklewood more than a year ago, just the usual exchange of greetings and laughter.

To this day, I love that clip of him singing 'The West's Awake' after Galway's hurling All-Ireland win in 1980. So sincere sympathies to his family and I hope they know how much that Joe was loved by the wider GAA community. One of nature's gentlemen.

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