GAA Football

Cahair O'Kane: Broadcasters' blinkered approach perfect for those against tiers

RTÉ showed Dublin's Leinster SHC clash with Kilkenny live on Sunday - and then dedicated a larger segment of their highlights programme on Sunday night to it than any of the other 16 championship games played at the weekend. Picture by Seamus Loughran

YOU won’t know who Garry Byrne is. You won’t see him on any highlight reels or fancy atmospheric montages. He probably won’t be at the Dublin Convention Centre in November and his name won’t be mentioned when it comes to deciding the score of the year in hurling in 2018.

He plays wing-back for Wicklow hurlers. On Saturday, they had a great Christy Ring Cup win over a Mayo side that had enjoyed a very good year up to that point.

On Sunday afternoon and evening, the pundits salivated over Fergal Whitely’s brilliant goal for Dublin against Kilkenny. It was a superb finish, whipped first time from the ground into the roof of Eoin Murphy’s net in Parnell Park.

But there was no mention of Garry Byrne. He was fully 60 yards out and touching the sideline when the ball fell in front of his feet. He whips it, proper John Fenton-style, and it sails the whole way over the black spot.

You would not have seen his score on The Sunday Game. You wouldn’t have known Wicklow hurlers were playing. Frankly, if it was left to RTÉ, you wouldn’t know Wicklow had a hurling team.

The Christy Ring, Nicky Rackard and Lory Meagher Cup games at the weekend literally weren’t even given the respect of mere existence, never mind anything else.

But it’s not just hurling. On their Sunday night highlights show, the national broadcaster gave over 18 minutes to the Dublin-Kilkenny game, and 16 minutes and 40 seconds to Galway’s win over Mayo, both of which they’d shown live that afternoon.

Yet the three Leinster football matches, two of which went to extra-time and the other which saw Carlow claim a brilliant win over Louth, were given a combined total of 17 minutes and 15 seconds.

The whole of extra-time in Wicklow’s win over Offaly was condensed into 30 seconds, and the Laois-Wexford extra-time was given a whole two seconds more.

Those two especially should be able to bottle the excitement of their Saturday evening shootout and sell it to the Pharisees, what with penalties, late drama and goalkeepers playing at corner-forward.

This is, of course, nothing new. But we’re not in the 1990s any more. There aren’t three games on in the whole country every Sunday.

There were 17 championship games played at the weekend, and there will be 20 played this weekend.

With the start of the Munster SHC and the Tyrone-Monaghan clash in Ulster (which is remarkably not on live anywhere), everything else will end up in the crusher.

The Sunday Game ran for an hour and 27 minutes on Sunday night (excluding ad breaks) and they covered seven games. Of that time, they gave a cursory two minutes and three seconds to the Joe McDonagh Cup, which is a great competition.

The six teams in it all started with a fair shot of winning it, and equally all six would have had genuine fears of relegation when the first ball was thrown in last Saturday.

Yet if you’d gone to boil the kettle, you’d have missed the competition’s entire weekend coverage, containing no footage of action whatsoever.

There are so many inadequacies in the way GAA is currently presented on TV. Forget the negativity of the commentary – it’s opinion, it’s what the pundits are paid for and it gives us something to talk about. We can live with that.

What has become unacceptable is the absolute lack of coverage, and by extension respect, for a big percentage of the games.

The first half highlights from Wexford-Laois lasted 50 seconds and the second was just a minute and 15 seconds. Extra-time was covered in 32 seconds. And that is probably as much as Wexford will get for a first round qualifier they may well lose. There wasn’t a kick of their NFL campaign shown anywhere. How does that sell the game to anyone?

There is a limit to how much can be shown live and a logic behind it. A marathon three-hour highlights programme is not the answer here either.

When the Premier League are negotiating their rights deal, they insist on every club being shown live a certain number of times. This season, Burnley were shown the least, but still appeared seven times live on screen.

Every Saturday on Sky Sports, their Premier League highlights packages are broken into one-hour segments. Each game is given an extended spot with proper highlights and most of the boring bits cut out (though not all, it is still soccer).

It gives the same profile to Swansea v Southampton as Manchester United v Arsenal. While the wider interest will always sway to the latter, there are still a significant number of people who will watch the former.

That’s the path the GAA needs to be looking down. Offer an extended highlights package and sell them to TV3 or TG4, who you can imagine would be only too happy to buy them.

Imagine extended highlights of Donegal v Cavan for an hour at 7pm, then Laois v Wexford for an hour at 8pm, and then when The Sunday Game highlights begin at 9.30pm, they give due credence to the games that haven’t already been shown anywhere.

In an era where live TV can be recorded and manipulated very comfortably, why does there remain such an insistence on showing more of the games that were already shown live?

It would be a feast, and everyone would get fed. Because all we’re doing now is creating an inequality that’s letting the weaker counties in both codes starve at a time when the bellies of the top counties are popping belts.

And while you can lay some (but not a lot of) blame RTÉ or Sky Sports for their editorial decisions, there is a major responsibility on the shoulders of the GAA.

They have to go to their next rights negotiations prepared to take the ball home if the broadcasters don’t want to play by their rules.

Football should have a tiered championship – but until there are cast-iron guarantees that the lower tiers will not be left on a desert island the way those in hurling have been, you can easily understand why the idea is so objectionable to those who’d be cut adrift.

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