Sport

John McEntee: Not enough Allianz League TV and radio coverage

The lack of coverage of the Allianz Football League on television and radio in the north is a crying shame given how competitive and entertaining the action tends to be Picture by Philip Walsh

EVERYONE has been saying how great the Allianz Football League is. Teams are competitive, opponents are well-matched in terms of ability, by and large. Competition is stiff.

I agree. Last week TG4 covered the Kerry versus Donegal game, while this week it was the turn of hurling. I went to watch my native county, Armagh, play at home to Sligo in their first game and it was a thoroughly enjoyable day out.

The fruits of their efforts over the past few years are there to be viewed by all paying customers.

A total score of 23 points represents fine kicking, and was all the more impressive when it was repeated on Sunday away to Westmeath, who would have viewed themselves as promotion contenders.

My quick-witted friends in Newry used to quip: “Ach sure apples are always best value in the winter months, but go out of season when the real stuff starts.”

Who knew there were so many agricultural fruit-growing experts in the Mourne county?

In the recent past it has been hard to put up a compelling counter-argument, but change may be happening.

The way in which Armagh responded to a Westmeath goal midway through the second half showed a trait that was absent all of last year – a winning trait.

I’m not naive to think that they are a top-four team and I would not wish to pile such pressure on so many young shoulders.

However, as a fan, it is encouraging to see positive, incremental progress from Kieran McGeeney’s team.

This is what supporters will be charting on the return journeys from Brewster Park and Wexford Park in late March and it will set the mood for the Championship opener in mid-May.

No League or Championship is ever won in the second week of February.

Over the weekend I spent a lot time trying to find a football match to watch on TV. It didn’t happen. From what I can gather, RTÉ do not air any League fixtures.

TG4 have been showing some games, often on deferred coverage or as highlights but I guess some coverage is better than none.

As for Sky Sports – I’m not paying to watch GAA in my own home, I don’t care who is playing.

But what about BBC, the national broadcaster for the ‘six counties’?

Three of the six counties – Tyrone, Down and Fermanagh – had home fixtures.

The Red Hands hosted the

All-Ireland champions, Dublin, in what was probably the most interesting of all the football fixtures over the weekend.

It attracted 9,465 die-hard supporters on a cold, wet Saturday night, which is a very respectable attendance, while many neutrals were interested.

I certainly expected the BBC to seek some of the rights for the League which would allow them to air the big hitters in action, but that has not been the case.

Ulster has more representation in the top tier than any other province.

Some folk will turn on the radio to listen to the matches.

If it is a Sunday, they will be bitterly disappointed as they listen to Classical Connections with John Toal (not of Armagh fame) on Radio Ulster.

Those in the know tune in to 1341MW to listen to a muffled Mark Sidebottom accompanied by some former county player who is afforded short soundbites every few minutes.

The background static is often so strong that the volume has to be turned up high enough for the neighbours to hear the commentary, whether they want to or not.

I’m never quite sure if my increased stress levels listening to GAA on the radio are attributable to this static or not knowing what the actual score is as the game unfolds.

I don’t even have a radio in my home which tunes into medium wave. To listen to matches I’m forced to resort to sitting in my car with the wee man, reversing away from our house into the corner of the driveway where a faint signal can be received, and unzipping our goodie bag to fuel up for the upcoming match.

It is by no means ideal, but I guess it is third-best when it is not possible to be there in person or watch on TV.

The BBC would no doubt defend their position, saying they commit a reporter to each game who provides regular updates, while they post updates on social media.

For elderly folk and rural people, this is wholly inadequate.

It is a form of lip-service paid to the largest sport in the North.

I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside their producers, camera men and presenters while filming a documentary on my local club, so I know the quality of the crew and of their product when they dedicate time and resources to something.

To be fair, their coverage of the Ulster Championship is also worth watching, but it strikes me that this two-month focus is all the key air-time they are willing

to give to the GAA.

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