Tuesday 20 February 2018

Not all TV coverage is about money

'Neil McGee (p) probably won’t agree but TG4 did us all a favour by showing what happened in Tralee' Photo: Sportsfile
'Neil McGee (p) probably won’t agree but TG4 did us all a favour by showing what happened in Tralee' Photo: Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

There's been an awful lot of discussion about the big fight last weekend. It is, as they say, the talk of the place. And I'd have to go along with the people who describe it as 'human cockfighting'. There really isn't any place in civilized society for a so-called sporting contest where people go out of their way to maim their opponent. If this is what passes for entertainment these days, I'm afraid to say we are descending into barbarism.

And the worst thing about it is that Kerry and Donegal normally don't play like this.

Neil McGee probably won't agree but TG4 did us all a favour by showing what happened in Tralee. In the absence of live coverage this was the kind of game which ends up as mythology, its depredations exaggerated in some quarters and excused in others. TG4 gave us the chance to make up our own minds.

GAA fans owe an awful lot to the little broadcaster that can.

Think of all the good stuff we've seen on there: terrific league matches, memorable All-Ireland club championship clashes, stirring county finals, some wonderful under 21 games, epic ladies' football encounters. If it wasn't for TG4 none of those matches would have been shown live and we'd be significantly the poorer.

Yet such is the consistent and unobtrusive excellence of the station that we tend to take it for granted that on a Sunday afternoon they'll provide us with something worth watching. I'm sure I'm not the only one who, as the referee tries yet again to set the scrum in some European Rugby Cup tie or some Premier League star does a dry land Greg Louganis number, has flicked over and said to himself, "sure I'll watch a couple of minutes of this one," only to end up getting drawn in to the extent that TG4 is where he, or she, stays.

Sunday was typically good with the fine Tipperary-Waterford hurling match as a palate cleanser after the strong stuff from Tralee. One of the most impressive things about the coverage is TG4's ability find good analysts; former Cork player Michael O'Croinin is a staple of TG4's coverage and both he and former Kerry star Aodán MacGearailt were excellent on Sunday. The smaller station's style is refreshingly different from that employed by RTE.

When a TG4 pundit is asked what he thinks of the game so far he doesn't deliver a manifesto, he doesn't uncork a few mouldy one-liners he's been practising all week in front of the mirror, he doesn't try to distort what he's seen so it'll fit into his preconceived theory. He just tells you what he thinks of the game. Sounds crazy, I know, but it works.

TG4 might be short on resources but pound for pound they've done more for the GAA than any other station in recent years. Their All-Ireland Gold series made use of a resource RTE had been happy to leave mouldering in the archives and changed the way we think about the game, challenging the idea of the 1977 Dublin-Kerry encounter as the ne plus ultra of Gaelic football for one thing. Their rugby coverage is not to be sneezed at either, with Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill an engaging anchor and Eoghan Ó Neachtain a lively pundit.

It was TG4 too who broadcast the women's rugby team's famous World Cup victory over the All Blacks, while they've also been enterprising enough to secure Irish rights for Wimbledon and the Tour de France and have done a decent job with those old warhorses.

It's interesting to contrast TG4's GAA coverage with that on Sky Sports. There's no comparison in terms of money spent of course, yet the authoritative nature of TG4's effort is in stark contrast with the persistently counterfeit feel of the Sky coverage. When it comes to GAA the minnow outclasses the behemoth.

Perhaps that's the most important thing to take from Tg4's Irish sports success story.

It's not all about the money.

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