Tuesday 19 February 2019

Dion Fanning: Sky ease their way though a massive, massive ask

A Sky Sports TV cameraman films the Offaly team during the national anthem before the game.
A Sky Sports TV cameraman films the Offaly team during the national anthem before the game.
The Sky team of Rachel Wyse, Brian Carney, Ollie Canning and Peter Canavan look out on Nowlan Park during last night game between Kilkenny and Offaly. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Kilkenny's Henry Shefflin is filmed by Sky Sports ahead of the game.

Dion Fanning

The sports editor told me I was Sky's target audience. I was an Irishman living in London, he explained, and Sky's GAA broadcast had the potential to do so much for the Irish in Britain.

I wouldn't have considered myself Sky's target, more like collateral damage. I've lived in London for 18 years and, as far as I know, I've never made it to Ruislip. I have occasionally headed to an Irish pub on Ladbroke Grove or the Harrow Road to watch an All-Ireland semi-final or final and I have taken the occasional Premier Sports subscription with the intention of watching some matches.

I would probably have survived without Sky's new deal. I wasn't part of the new Irish in London featured in the same magazine article that has appeared for the past 25 years but I wasn't the old Irish either, pining for a home that didn't exist.

Sky had placed Ireland on high alert with last week's graphic which promised live coverage of Connacht GAA Football between Kilkenny and Offaly. A few daysbefore, RTE had put two counties into the 'Limerick hurling championship' so Sky with their relentlessly high standards were making an effort to understand our customs.

The only alarming moment in the typically slick opening sequence was Rachel Wyse's big hair. As she moved into the small parallelogram, Wyse looked as if she was going to embark on a guitar solo which would be concluded on the side of a mountain while Brian Carney delivered some pained vocals from a nearby helicopter.

By the time Wyse was in the studio, she demonstrated that those who questioned her broadcasting skills might have been true Gaels but they didn't know much about her ability on TV. There was little fuss as Wyse and Carney turned to the analysis with an eagerness and an energy which shouldn't have surprised anyone considering the panellists in the studio.

Ireland remained on alert for two reasons: firstly, what great outrage would Sky commit against the nation and, secondly, what great outrage would the Gaels commit with Britain looking on?

Happily Sky didn't seem to think anyone else would be looking on beyond the natural constituency and the night passed without incident. Strangely, there was no attempt to explain hurling to new viewers. Perhaps Sky were worried about the reaction in Ireland if they broadcast a primer, or else the coverage is not intended to win over new supporters as much as take a share of an old audience.

Sky's equipment was available but initially there seemed to be a reluctance to be too flash, so they rattled through the analysis without doing anything radically different.

Even Sky – with their ability to sell a contest – would have struggled with a game where Kilkenny started at 1/80, although they did manage to drift to 1/66 in the opening minutes before settling at an attractive 1/200.

As a result, half-time's analysis was a massive, massive ask. Jamesie O'Connor broke down the fine details of the Kilkenny game and impressively used some more of Sky's gimmicks but there was the corporate reluctance to admit that a game was finished.

With 90 seconds remaining, commentator Mike Finnerty conceded that it was "all over bar the shouting". At that point Offaly trailed by 24 points and they ended the night grateful that the game was only available to those with Sky Sports subscriptions.

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