RTE sports anchor Michael Lyster speaks about Mickey Harte's dispute with RTE

Eamonn Mallie with Michael Lyster
Eamonn Mallie with Michael Lyster

VETERAN GAA broadcaster Michael Lyster has broken his silence on a long-running dispute between RTÉ and Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte.

In a TV interview to be screened next Monday the RTÉ sports anchor speaks about the major fall-out that has resulted in Harte’s refusal to speak to the national broadcaster.

In a wide-ranging interview he also provides a behind the scenes glimpse of the Sunday Game, RTE’s flagship GAA programme.

Lyster, (62), who suffered a cardiac arrest last year, also opened up about his health and the future involvement on the hugely popular sports show.

He has anchored the programme for more than three decades and appears regularly during the summer months where he hosts a panel of expert guests.

These include Derry All Ireland winner Joe Brolly, who Lyster described as a “loose cannon” during the interview with journalist and filmmaker Eamonn Mallie to be broadcast on IRISH TV next week.

Often controversial, the Sunday Game is known the length of Ireland for some of the outrageous comments made by both Brolly and former Kerry legend Pat Spillane who regularly clash live on air.

But despite the popularity of the programme a fallout between RTÉ and Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte has been simmering in the background for several years.

Harte, who has continued to boycott interviews with the broadcaster, hasn't spoken to Sunday Game since 2011 after details of a letter sent to the Irish broadcaster were leaked to the press.

RTÉ subsequently apologised to him following a hugely insensitive radio sketch about the death of his daughter Michaela who was murdered on honeymoon in Mauritius.

Despite negotiations between RTÉ and the Tyrone County Board, as well as a face-to-face meeting with Harte himself, there is still no sign of a resolution.

It is undertstood there were already tensions with RTÉ over the 'unfair' treatment of a sports reporter at the broadcaster.

Pressed on the subject Mr Lyster described the situation as "unfortunate" and said "every effort had been made" to find a way around the dispute.

“Mickey has his view and we have tried to cross the bridge on this one and it hasn’t worked and that’s the beginning and the end of it essentially.”

And he appeared to suggest that efforts by RTÉ to resolve the disagreement have been rejected by Harte.

“It’s not for the lack of effort or not for the lack of want,” he said.

“But you know, I think in fairness you would have to talk to Mickey and say to Mickey ‘what’s the problem, why won’t you step across the line on this one’ and I know he has strong views."

Lyster said despite the stand-off he enjoys a good personal relationship with the Tyrone boss.

“And I can talk to Mickey as I am talking to you on a personal basis and it’s not a problem but he has a view and as I said we have tried to deal with it,” she said.

He added that “the funny thing is we actually have a good relationship with the Tyrone County Board and all that kind of thing. But look, it’s his choice, you know and fine.”

Each week tens of thousands of GAA fans across Ireland tune into the Sunday Game to see Dungiven man Joe Brolly often cross swords with Kerry great Pat Spillane.

Brolly in particular has caused controversy in recent years, most notably when he described RTÉ presenter Marty Morrissey as “ugly” during a live broadcast last year.

Brolly, who won an All Ireland with Derry in 1993, was referring to Cavan’s defensive style of football during a game against neighbours Monaghan.

“I’ve referred to Cavan in recent years as the Black Death because the football has been, as some people have said, as ugly as Marty Morrissey,” he said.

The remark forced an immediate on-air rebuke from a shocked Lyster.

And he agreed that the outburst presented the most challenging moment he has experienced during his time as Sunday Game presenter.

“What he said on that occasion involving Marty was just so out of line, was just so wrong, to this day I don’t know what Joe was thinking, I really don’t.”

He said he felt it necessary to challenge Brolly’s remarks while on air.

“This was just out of order as I said on the day to Joe myself and it was just one of those things you had to speak up straight away and try to explain to the watching public that you in no way condoned, or actually didn’t agree with this thing that he said,” he said.

“ It was very clear cut.”

Lyster described the former Derry footballer, who is a barrister by trade, as a “very, very intelligent guy and very knowledgeable” about the GAA.

Asked about Brolly’s convoluted use of language and a recent description of the Dublin team playing with “insouciance”, Lyster said at the time he wasn’t sure what Brolly meant.

“Joe is a very articulate man but he will invent things on the spur of the moment and I guess there is a danger with that at times because you can say something on the spur of the moment that maybe afterwards we all would have preferred you hadn’t,” he said.

He agreed his co-presenter can be described as a “loose cannon”.

“He is yes, is he a lose cannon worth having, yes he is,” he said.

“Because if he was a guy that was just a mouth, that was just saying things for attention or stuff like that, that wouldn’t work.

“But you can strip back his comments and the way he puts them and some of the things that he says that definitely get under people’s skin and say OK, but what about the point he is making and usually you will find the point has been pretty accurate,” he said.

He also revealed that Pat Spillane’s 2003 description of football played by Armagh and Tyrone as “Puke football” had caused “a lot of issues” for RTÉ

Spillane is well known for his negative view of Ulster football teams and has also been critical of Donegal in the past.

The presenter denied playing a part in encouraging Spillane’s remarks.

“No, because Pat certainly doesn’t need to be encouraged or goaded or anything else,” he said.

“In actual fact the opposite is the case.

“I am on there with an invisible loop around his neck trying to pull him back again.”

He went on: “It caused us, needless to say, a lot of issues at the time from various people” involved in the GAA in Ulster.

He said that despite public perception there is no animosity between the Kerry man and Joe Brolly.

“They don’t hate each other, that’s fair to say, they certainly don’t,” he said.

“But it’s not a game and they come with different perspectives on it.

“They come with a different attitude to the whole thing.”

During the interview the father-of-four also talks about his own recent health scare when his heart stopped last year.

He said that as he closes in on retirement he is unsure of what the future holds.

“I will do this year and presumably do next year and beyond that I really, genuinely, am not looking any further than that because if my health stays good I will do it and if I have any problems I might just say ‘thanks, but it’s enough’,” he said.

* Eamonn Mallie Meets. IRISH TV, Monday April 11, 8pm.