Tuesday 12 December 2017

Rachel Wyse: Lights, camera, action – I'm all set to reach for the Sky in Nowlan Park

Fitting that broadcaster's first match should involve Cody's legendary Cats

Michael Fennelly
Michael Fennelly

Rachel Wyse

My preparation for our first live GAA broadcast has been hectic. I finished my last shift on Sky Sports News at 10.0 on Thursday night before an early flight to Dublin yesterday morning.

We then travelled to Kilkenny for a day of rehearsals while the crew set up the studio and established camera locations. Working on outside broadcasts is a huge operation, with personnel assigned to every aspect of the show from the graphics to music to interviews and set design.

Over the past number of weeks the chosen panel of experts have been getting to grips with the show's technology, technology that has become synonymous with Sky's analysis across all platforms, from football to cricket. In conjunction with the weekend programmes, a midweek highlights show has now been confirmed and will begin next week.

And, as I write this piece, the butterflies are prevalent. While Sky has done any number of outside broadcasts, this is different. This is Ireland, this is the GAA.

Whether you agree or disagree with the GAA's decision to grant Sky coverage rights to our national game, there is no argument about the significance of the event. Today is a historic day. A day which hopefully marks the beginning of a long journey for both the GAA and Sky.

For many reasons, it's fitting that the first live hurling broadcast should come from Nowlan Park. This is where one of the greatest teams to ever grace our games practise their art.


They came within one match of completing the five in a row in 2010 and, while Tipperary were worthy winners that day, I'm sure Kilkenny supporters still wonder what might have been but for injuries to key men like Henry Shefflin, Brian Hogan and John Tennyson.

Long after they are finished, some of those players will forever be spoken about as all-time greats. Their feats will stand up to the closest of scrutiny in any future era, regardless of what the hurlers of tomorrow achieve.

Men like Hickey, Delaney, Walsh, Larkin, Comerford and Shefflin come along once in a lifetime. That their careers should all overlap meant, for Kilkenny supporters, the stars in the hurling universe were well and truly aligned. Those fans have lived in times no county may ever know again.

But time marches on. As they begin once more on a championship journey, time is Kilkenny's greatest enemy. The passing years are the greatest leveller in sport. Time is the one certainty to redistribute equality.

Twelve months ago in Tullamore, Kilkenny hinted that time was taking its toll. The concession of four goals to Offaly was a subplot some sought to explain with references to 'no-win' situations because of the opposition. Soon after, Anthony Daly's Dublin brought considerable clarity to Kilkenny's state of being, and events in O'Connor Park clearly had significant context. The opposition had raised their game but, more tellingly, Kilkenny had regressed.

The considerable gap which once existed between Kilkenny and the chasing pack was bridged. A year later, no one knows for certain if Kilkenny can find the form of summers past or does the proclaimed 'new age' heralded by Clare have real substance?

Most expect Kilkenny will win today but they may be vulnerable. They are without Shefflin, Power and Rice – all ruled out because of injuries – and stories emerged during the week of Michael Fennelly carrying an injury.

Even in their most dominant days, Kilkenny would have felt the absence of these players, now their absence will be all the more noticeable.

Brian Cody has chosen to go to battle without Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan, two characters who adorned Kilkenny's half-back line on some of their greatest days. With JJ Delaney now on the edge of the square, Cody's decision to go to war with a whole new half-back line is brave.

The selection of Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley on the wings is obviously an effort to instil pace in his defence, and considering this logic the selection of Jackie Tyrrell at centre-back is a slightly curious one.

Cody's fellow clubman has many qualities but I'm not sure pace would be the top of a considerable list.

It's a brave call by Cody, one which he will most likely get away with today but I wonder would such selections last the course against better opposition in the open spaces of Croke Park? Up front, his team's dependence on TJ Reid is compounded by the absence of Power and Shefflin.

The positioning of Michael Fennelly on the '40' suggests, despite many selection experiments in the league, no viable centre-forward has been found. His brother Colin threatened great things early in the league only to disappoint against Tipperary in the league final, when Brendan Maher was outstanding at centre-back for the Premier men.

Walter Walsh brings physical presence, debutant Mark Kelly is a work in progress, and the question is how potent a scoring threat will they provide this evening? Today's clash represents a real opportunity for Offaly.

The question for the Faithful men is, do they truly believe they can come to Kilkenny's back yard and lower their colours? Now coached by one of their own legends, Brian Whelahan, Offaly's recent demise is a curious one. It's not all that long ago they were top of the pile in the hurling world.

Not alone at inter-county level, but in the club ranks with Birr. It's difficult to identify what's behind Offaly's recent inability to compete – perhaps the recent generation of players just hasn't been of the required standard. Perhaps they are experiencing a lull after a period which produced some of the greatest Offaly men ever to play the game.

A message that is probably not lost on Kilkenny people. In recent years, Kilkenny teams have struggled to be competitive at minor and U-21 grade.

This was illustrated once again during the week when they were dumped out of the U-21 championship by Wexford, who were convincing winners in Nowlan Park.

At club level, Kilkenny champions Clara were defeated by Oulart-The Ballagh of Wexford, who then lost to Carlow's Mount Leinster Rangers.

A very clear trend is emerging, times are changing and I suspect alarm bells may well be coming into earshot on Noreside.

For many of the current team, this tilt at Liam MacCarthy may well represent one final push for another marvellous September memory. If it is so, the void left in their absence will be of mammoth proportions.

Their apparent predecessors have no easy task. For now such eventualities are the concern of another day. Today their focus will be Offaly. Kilkenny aren't without their woes but they will win. Where their journey will end no one knows.

We do know for certain some of these Kilkenny players have been great champions and on the occasion of a new beginning, we in Sky Sports are privileged to keep their company.

Irish Independent

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