Sky shows RTÉ need to raise their Sunday Game

RTÉ’s front-line Gaelic football pundits Joe Brolly, Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane have become parodies, more interested in a pithy one-liner than real analysis 
The Boot Room with Brendan Crossan

THE Sky Sports GAA deal should have been the best thing that ever happened to RTÉ. Maybe it still can be. They say ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. Competition, many people assumed, would be good for Gaelic games. 

I like Match of the Day and I like The Sunday Game, even if it’s a lot to do with their soothing theme tunes. They may be stuck in time warps, but I’ll probably always like Match of the Day and I’ll probably always like The Sunday Game, but they lag behind the way Sky Sports package soccer and Gaelic football. 

I never believed Gary Neville would be as good as he is as a soccer pundit. Not predisposed to hyperbole, Neville has a serious, analytical mind. He’s one of the best pundits in the game. When he speaks, you come away feeling a little more informed about the game. 

Sadly, the same can’t be said of the resident Gaelic football pundits on The Sunday Game. Now, they’re not all tired and lacking in freshness. There are many redeeming features of The Sunday Game
It would be churlish to dismiss the show entirely because I like some of their pundits.

Kevin McStay and Tomás Ó Sé are my two favourites. A bit like listening to Neville, I feel better informed after watching McStay’s tactical analysis packages and enjoy Ó Sé’s general freshness and unmistakable Kerry delivery. And there have been some very good cameo appearances from former players on The Sunday Game show, notably Brian McGuigan on last week’s highlights programme.  And I rate Des Cahill as his line of enquiry is always good. 

So, condemning The Sunday Game would be akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. The problem lies with their resident pundits Joe Brolly, Colm O’Rourke, Pat Spillane and Ciarán Whelan, who has probably graduated to this elite group. The less excitable Joe is, the better pundit he is. When he sticks to the tactical breakdown of games, the Derry man often excels in the role. 

What’s slowly evolved in front of our very eyes over the last number of years is that the resident pundits on The Sunday Game have become odd parodies of themselves. The whole operation has gotten too familiar. Huge chunks of the show have become stale. For starters, they are given far too much airtime. 

My colleague Paddy Heaney penned a fine column earlier this week about the pressing need for players to start taking some of the spotlight. Why aren’t there more TV crews heading down to Kerry, Tyrone, Galway and Down to interview players? 

Instead, what we’re fed is a tiresome diet of the same punditry spouting for over an hour, before, during and after games. And, quite often, they feel it’s mandatory to land the odd haymaker on a player, coach or manager’s reputation. After all, a clever one-liner can get a nation talking for a whole week. 

A couple of years ago, the managerial abilities of Paul Grimley were unceremoniously debated after Armagh lost to Cavan in the Ulster Championship. And, from time to time, Kieran McGeeney has felt their wrath too. Kevin Walsh’s abilities were severely questioned while in charge of Sligo. And remember we were told Brian Dooher was never good enough to be an All-Ireland champion? 

Earlier this year, Marty Morrissey was cruelly laughed at. In Cork, Brian Cuthbert’s coaching abilities were laid bare. Referee Pádraig Hughes, we were told, should have been “stood down”. And there’s a “bad smell” about successive Tyrone teams. 

Criticism is one thing, but to deliver these one-liners with undiluted glibness is sorely lacking in class. When criticism is tasteless, it doesn’t add anything to GAA media discourse. 

A good example of the contrasting approaches of RTÉ and Sky Sports to Gaelic football was encapsulated last weekend in the build-up to the All-Ireland semi-final between Tyrone and Kerry. By the time Sunday came around, you could safely assume everyone was fed up talking about Tiernán McCann.

On Sky Sports, regular pundit Darragh Ó Sé sighed at the mere mention of Tiernán McCann and immediately shifted his focus to the upcoming game and gave a neat tactical summation of how he saw the game panning out. Meanwhile, over on RTÉ, Colm O’Rourke and Ciarán Whelan were like broken records, studying with great diligence the pockmarks this irredeemable Tyrone team had left on the Championship stage. 

Meanwhile, back on Sky Sports (all made possible by the wonderful invention of Sky Plus), Peter Canavan was on hand to show on his tactical screen how Tyrone’s double sweeper system works. For the armchair viewer, this kind of insightful analysis is such a welcome addition to Gaelic football because television pictures have always only been able to tell the viewer roughly 50 per cent of the match narrative. A good pundit can fill in the gaps for the armchair viewer.

And there is not always harmony in the Sky Sports studios. On several occasions, Jim McGuinness and Canavan have disagreed with one another. 

Of course, the aforementioned Sunday Game analysts use footage to make their tactical observations but it is not done with the same clarity, gusto or slick presentation as Sky Sports. Leaning back in their chairs and trying to come up with clever one-liners no longer passes for analysis. The Sunday Game can be undoubtedly better. 

While pay walls should never have been part of the GAA landscape, Sky Sports can’t be faulted for how they are presenting Gaelic games. 

It’s not always true that a rising tide raises all boats, particularly when some pundits are lost in their own glib narcissism.


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