Sport

Danny Hughes: Television coverage of club GAA leaves a lot to be desired

Down county finals day in Newry saw Burren celebrate senior success but the local broadcasters should really be held to account for its poor coverage of such occasions

THE Down Club finals were held on Sunday and the beautiful autumnal weather allowed Down supporters to enjoy two matches being played with great spirit and vigour.

The minor game between Burren and Ballyholland was an excellent curtain-raiser to the senior final between Kilcoo and Burren.

Ballyholland’s win made it a fitting and joyous occasion for the club, having gone through the week from hell leading up to the game. The club had not won a minor championship competition in 27 years.

It was a much welcome lift at a difficult time as, prior to this, the club had hit the national headlines for all the wrong reasons, following the huge attention cast upon the unsavoury scenes during their senior league game with Downpatrick.

My own club Saval are neighbours of Ballyholland and our games over the years have always been played in a great spirit.

Some of my best friends are Ballyholland players and they have also been caught up in the furore of the past two weeks.

It has deeply affected them on a personal level, as it surely has individuals from the Downpatrick club also.

I met the great Tom O’Hare of Mayobridge at Mass last week and, in his own words, the lack of TV coverage in his playing days perhaps saved a lot of players from jail-time, never mind suspended playing time.

I am no saint either and have taken a thump or two over the years and gave out a few as well.

However, I have always left the battles on the field and shaken hands with opponents after a game.

It’s an important gesture I think, even if you like them or not.

I know that many of the individuals featured in the much-publicised social media footage are hurting and their families and those of both clubs have been deeply embarrassed by the entire episode.

It doesn’t make them bad people nor is it somehow representative of their value system or that of their club and its supporters.

Bad decisions get made on emotion – it’s human nature.

Winning is important and no-one was more obsessed with winning than me. But there is a way to win and, equally, a way to lose.

Winning became irrelevant for my friend Ronan Murtagh last week after he sustained a serious facial injury in an accidental collision of players during the same game between Ballyholland and Downpatrick.

Thankfully, he is on the mend and for one of the toughest players I have played with and against, the backlash against his club, combined with his own health concerns, have taken its toll.

I wish him well in his recovery.

If the ugly fighting incident during the game had appeared in isolation, perhaps the national scrutiny may not have been quite so fervent. But it came at a time when similar incidents have been happening across Ulster in various spheres.

Sledging, biting, eye-gouging, feigning injury and cheating appears increasingly rampant throughout the game.

The manliness with which the game was played and should be played is no longer in football. Whether you like it or not, managers and coaches need to take the lead here.

Certain behaviours should not be tolerated nor encouraged no matter what is at stake. It is as simple as that.

It was rife in the All-Ireland series this year at inter-county level.

Nothing sickens me more than seeing a player going down holding his head when you would take a harder knock coming out of Mass.

I think there is an onus now on players to portray the proper behaviours in all aspects of the game as, let’s not forget,

TV footage combined with social media coverage is prevalent now.

HOWEVER, it must be said that there appears little prospect that GAA followers will be treated to positive footage from either the BBC or UTV.

Both continue to appear largely disinterested in positive TV coverage of the GAA.

With only footage of fighting on and off the field being given air time, our game continues to be portrayed in the worst possible fashion within Ulster TV circles.

For example, the Down county finals on Sunday were attended by over 6,000 patrons.

And what do we get as highlights on either channel? Nothing until the Monday evening news bulletins.

Many GAA people feel alienated by the scant coverage provided by BBC and UTV.

I understand that the GAA distribute the rights for inter-county football and despite RTE’s dominance in the arena, Sky TV have made inroads, albeit the viewing figures are not especially good from their perspective.

I understand TV rights are a complicated area, but I feel they could both do much better.

The perception of many GAA supporters is that the GAA coverage on BBC and UTV is cold at best.

Meanwhile, the Beeb can provide rugby coverage in their news bulletins in either the PRO14 or Champions Cup, while live coverage of the Irish Premiership has started and a slot for the Irish League on Saturday afternoon’s Final Score is a staple.

When this subject crops up, BBC can point to the coverage and deferred coverage that they bring to the GAA supporters during the Ulster Senior Football Championship.

But it’s hard to escape the fact that they ignore the club championships which, dare I say it, are at times a much better competition from an entertainment perspective.

We pay a BBC licence fee also, don’t we?

UTV usually just don’t bother responding to cold hard facts.

A re-run of one of Harry Potter’s adventures or AN Other movie on one of their four channels is often prioritised.

At times, the GAA just don’t push current boundaries enough in Ulster.

You feel that the association look on us up north as having a chip on our shoulder regardless.

However, many volunteers in the GAA in Ulster have had to live with terrible hardship during the Troubles, on both sides of the divide, and equally those people have also helped to sow seeds of reconciliation in peace-time.

With Brexit looming and with the British government and their DUP puppet masters opting for an isolationist policy in Ulster/ Northern Ireland, our very survival as GAA followers and citizens on this part of the island faces its biggest challenge.

By not addressing what appears to be serious concerns about the coverage of sport in the north and not treating GAA supporters in Ulster (both Catholic and Protestant) on equal terms, the GAA at national level have failed their members.

The GAA have taken a soft approach to these issues for too long. It’s time for the GAA to stand up for followers of the GAA in Ulster.

This is not about party politics. It’s above all that.

It’s about equality.

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