GAA Football

Joe Brolly defends his outspoken punditry style - and talks Tyrone

Joe Brolly has defended his punditry style Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

JOE Brolly has defended his punditry style and believes the roots of his independent thinking can be traced back to his boarding school days.

The colourful former Derry footballer also hit out at the “moral outrage brigade” who criticise him for some of the comments he makes in the broadcast and print media about the modern game and its main protagonists.

He was castigated in some quarters for his critique of Kerry legend Colm ‘Gooch’ Cooper who announced his retirement from the inter-county scene in April.

“When I say things I mean them,” said Brolly.

“I think people in the GAA community understand that, which is why I get a good welcome wherever I go because people say: ‘Well, he speaks his mind – like him or hate him.’

“I tell you what there is out there in the modern world; there is a moral outrage brigade that goes into over-drive about things that are insignificant.

“So, when I made the point, which I think is entirely logical, about Colm Cooper that’s what happens. “Colm Cooper is a poet on the field but he’s not a leader; he won’t get you out of a hole.

“He was not capable of what [Peter] Canavan was capable of doing.

“In adversity, great players were Peter Canavan, Colm O’Rourke and Bernard Brogan – Cooper just wasn’t that type of player.”

Brolly also expressed his disillusionment with the direction Gaelic football has taken over the last decade and took issue with Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, a staunch supporter of the modern game.

The popular RTE pundit cited the example of the Waterford hurlers and their penchant for playing the game with sweepers over the last couple of seasons.

However, in last year’s memorable All-Ireland semi-final with Kilkenny, Derek McGrath’s men reverted back to a more orthodox gameplan and were lauded for it.

“When I say things I mean them,” says Joe Brolly. Picture by Mal McCann

“There was a time when the spirit of hurling and the spirit of football were exactly the same,” Brolly explained.

“And everybody felt they had a duty to the game and to the kids coming through to play the game and that the game needed to played the right way.

“Now, we had a situation in hurling last year where Derek McGrath was playing with sweepers with Waterford and was universally panned in the hurling world in every media outlet.

“[The talk was] ‘This is not hurling. This is a disgrace. This is an outrage.' And eventually, under the sheer weight of that pressure, McGrath buckled and went man-to-man.

“They played Kilkenny in what was a brilliant game of hurling; they played with courage, no fear and they really ought to have won the game.

“I was at a function with Eddie Brennan last week and he said: ‘Waterford should have beaten us.’

“The point was they were eulogised all over the country – that this is the right way, this is how you need to play. It’s fulfilling for the supporters, the players and it’s a shared journey.

“You look at Brian Cody who insists that Kilkenny play hard but in the spirit of hurling.

“Last year his full-back line was being destroyed by [Tipperary’s] Seamus Callanan.

“That’s just the way it is. If you can’t cope, this is hurling and sometimes you take it on the chin. But there’s a greater good for the kids playing hurling.”

Describing Gaelic football at inter-county level as “muck”, Brolly feels the modern game has few redeeming features.

“In 10 years, Gaelic football has become unrecognisable,” he said.

“It is hard to believe that we are the brother sport of hurling. The spirit of Gaelic football was the same as hurling 10 years ago - it is now unrecognisable.

“Its cynicism, its negativity, its blanket defending, it is formulaic, the supporters hate it, the players hate playing it. It’s no longer a shared journey.

“You heard Mickey Harte saying last year: ‘We are not in the business of entertainment’. We’re playing a heavy price in football because of the lack of leadership. If it wasn’t me standing up, saying: ‘This is muck’, who else would be saying it?

Joe Brolly has taken issue with Tyrone manager Mickey Harte's interpretation of the modern game

“You look at those great Tyrone teams of the ‘Noughties’ that were committed to the attack and played the game [the right way] – alright there were some issues – but you go back a generation before that, they’d some wonderful footballers.”

Asked is he bothered by his critics, Brolly replied: “No. I do like the public conversation. One of the good things about me leaving home at 11 and going to St Pat’s, Armagh [boarding school] and ploughing on to university in Dublin, I became an independent thinker.

“I’d to work it out for myself. I was away from home. I was on my own. And that’s when I became an independent thinker. It was probably the best thing about boarding school – maybe the only good thing about boarding school...”

On his seemingly love-hate relationship with RTE colleague Pat Spillane, Brolly quipped: “My father had a great line: ‘He’s alright if you like that sort of thing.’”



THE former Derry forward has revealed that he once supported fierce rivals Tyrone. As a teenager, Joe Brolly was in Hill 16 the day the Red Hands lost the 1986 All-Ireland final to Kerry.

A big fan of some of Tyrone’s leading lights during the eighties, Brolly revealed: “Let me tell you this and it’s a secret that I don’t think I’ve ever revealed before.

“Whenever that Tyrone team got to the All-Ireland final in 1986 and should have won it – they were unbelievably unfortunate not to win it against Kerry – I was in the Hill with my face painted red and white with a Tyrone flag.“In the eighties, the Frank McGuigans, the Eugene McKennas, the Damien O’Hagans – it was a total pleasure watching them play football.”

* JOE Brolly says the best thing to emerge from the Matthew Fitzpatrick case was his son being given the player’s number 11 jersey in Antrim’s Ulster Championship defeat to Donegal in Ballybofey.

Matthew Fitzpatrick had his 48-week ban lifted and played for Antrim against Donegal in the Ulster Championship

Fitzpatrick, who suffered an ankle injury and was forced off against Donegal just before half-time, sought out Brolly’s son, Ruairi, after the game and gave the youngster his jersey.

“Matt was playing brilliantly before he got injured,” says Brolly. “Up to that point, he was making Frank McGlynn’s head light. They had to take McGlynn off him.

“After the game, Matt gave my son Ruairi his number 11 jersey and he hasn’t had it off his back since. Our Ruairi is only 16 and looks up to those boys.”




Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football