The Boot Room: Poorly-promoted hurling tiers don't bode well for football
IT was Saturday tea-time. I was in the kitchen. There was something vaguely resembling a curry going on.
The lap-top was strategically placed beside the chopping board to watch TG4’s ‘live’ streaming of the Christy Ring final between Antrim and Carlow.
With Carlow streaking ahead, the internet signal disappeared just after half-time.
While the garlic, onion and ginger singed the bottom of my over-sized Wok, I switched the radio on - BBC Radio Ulster - to catch updates of the game down at Croke Park
Naturally enough, it was wall-to-wall coverage of Northern Ireland’s World Cup Qualifier away in far-flung Azerbaijan on the wireless.
Joel Taggart and former international John O’Neill were in the commentary box. I prefer Liam Beckett’s summaries but Joel and John are still a good pairing.
Sadly, there were no updates of the All-Ireland final taking place in Dublin.
I checked 1341mw, but Joel and John were on there too.
Listeners were treated to an endless stream of text messages from the north's Green and White Army and how much they were enjoying the radio coverage of the big game.
Alfie the dog got a mention.
In Ballymoney, a texter was out mowing his lawn listening to the lads in Baku.
The mood was jovial.
Everyone who sent in a text message got it read out.
I'm not sure if the texts were free.
I was hoping someone would have texted in the latest score from Croke Park.
But it never came.
The only update we got from the boys was the latest score between Scotland and England at Hampden Park.
I checked BBCNI Twitter feed. There were no Christy Ring updates there either.
BBCNI do a great job with the Danske Bank Irish Premier League every Saturday.
They have reporters at every ground with regular updates.
Surely there could have been updates of the Christy Ring final or the Nicky Rackard final slotted in between Joel and John’s merry banter rather than reading out zany texts from the lovely lawns of Ballymoney.
TG4 could not screen the Christy Ring final because it clashed with RTE's 'live' coverage of the Munster SFC semi-final between Cork and Tipperary.
A 'live' stream of the Ring, Rackard and Meagher finals was better than nothing - that is if your internet signal held up.
Given that three Ulster counties - Antrim, Derry and Armagh - were involved in the finals at Croke Park, surely it was not beyond the realms of possibility for a highlights package to be put together.
If BBCNI can piggy-back RTE and deliver excellent coverage of the Ulster Senior Football Championship, could the same not have been done with TG4 for a 30-minute highlights show on Saturday or Sunday night?
Even behind the red button?
Of course, the new digital age and TV rights deals can be complicated.
Three years ago, I interviewed the GAA’s Director-General Paraic Duffy about how BBCNI could fatten up its Gaelic Games coverage.
Outlining the issues around digital platforms, Duffy floated the notion that perhaps there could be some link-up between TG4 and BBCNI.
“I know there are games being shown on TG4 and I see no reason why we couldn’t make an arrangement such as we have for the Ulster Championship where RTE does the games and the BBC can show them,” said Duffy.
“That’s one of the areas I’d like to see explored because I think the Ulster Club Championship is a fantastic competition...”
There is, of course, a bigger narrative at play here than merely shining a light on the perceived shortcomings of BBCNI’s coverage of Gaelic Games.
For instance, RTE doesn’t show any ‘live’ GAA matches from one summer to the next.
That’s why TG4 is such a prized asset within the GAA community.
The Irish-medium TV station continually delves beyond the elite competitions to show U21 games, club championship fixtures in hurling and football and camogie games.
Sky Sports is a relatively new media partner of the GAA's and you don’t imagine that the Christy Ring final will ever feature on the list of their priorities.
And this is exactly where the mooted ‘B’ Championship would fall flat on its face.
It's not the idea. It's the promotion of it.
The GAA’s main media partners, quite naturally, are interested in the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship and the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship.
In an interview with The Irish News, Joe Brolly painted a colourful utopia of what a tiered Championship in football would look like.
“It shouldn’t be called the ‘B’ Championship – they should call it the Paidi O Se Cup to give it a bit of oomph,” Brolly said.
“It gets exactly the same privileges and respect as the Sam Maguire… Once teams are playing at the one level, then spectators will go… The two teams that reach the final play on All-Ireland final day and they get the same allocation of tickets as if they were playing for the Sam Maguire.
“The GAA would insist on proper coverage when they do the deals with the TV networks.
“Can you imagine the fun?”
Hurling was broken into Championship tiers in 2005. The Christy Ring, Rackard and Meagher have generally been warmly received by the participants.
But TV coverage of hurling’s underbelly is virtually non-existent.
It has reached the stage where there’s no outcry about the lack of TV coverage of last Saturday’s finals at Croke Park because the apathy felt towards these games among the GAA’s broadcast partners has trickled down to the grass-roots like weed-killer.
Prior to last weekend’s Christy Ring final, Carlow boss Colm Bonnar said the lack of games promotion was staggering and that even the promotion play-off between themselves and Antrim should have been showcased on television.
“If you’re going to promote it they are the games to show,” Bonnar said.
“Our first Christy Ring game with Antrim [group stages] was as good as any game I’ve seen this year and yet there was so little made of it. I didn’t see any TV cameras at that game.”
“It’s not just about Division 1A and 1B; it’s about the teams trying to get promoted into it.”
It’s hard to see how the GAA expects to grow the game beyond elite level when they can’t insist on the Christy Ring final being shown ‘live’ on TV.
That’s why those counties corralled into an all-singing, all-dancing ‘B’ Championship in football might feel cut adrift after a year or two, as the nation feasts its eyes on the Super 8s in football and hurling.