GAA can direct wider focus on National League games

Kenny Archer

Kenny Archer

Kenny is the deputy sports editor and a Liverpool FC fan.

Dublin and Kerry will always be the focus of attention even if they aren't in the same division.
Dublin and Kerry will always be the focus of attention even if they aren't in the same division. Dublin and Kerry will always be the focus of attention even if they aren't in the same division.

NEVER mind the ‘advanced/ advance/ attacking/ forward/ occasionally defensive mark’, today’s column begins with a cautionary tale from ‘Marky Mark’.

The actor long known as Mark Wahlberg related an anecdote about returning to his home city of Boston to shoot a movie.

Some of his old pals appeared on the scene to greet the ‘local boy made good’ and to see what benefit they could accrue from the filming taking place in their neighbourhood.

One decided that he would take something off the set and sell it. A camera, no less.

The chancer was politely – or perhaps not – told that it cost around $50,000. So, ‘no’ then.

That story always comes to mind whenever the call is made for RTE to provide much more coverage of the National Leagues, or even for the GAA to run its own TV channel.

New season, new complaints – and some same old complaints.

Cameras aren’t cheap, indeed they’re no doubt much more expensive now than when that movie was being made.

Broadcast journalists are multi-taskers nowadays but the production values that viewers expect require much more than one person with a camera. It’s not quite as simple as just pointing your smartphone – turn it blooming sideways for starters! – and remembering to press ‘record’.

The vast initial outlay on equipment would be beyond the GAA’s means, besides the investment in staff training, wages, pensions, etc.

That’s before getting into how the running costs would be covered on a regular basis, year after year.

There’s enough debate and disgruntlement about pay-per-view versus free-to-air to indicate that few would be comfortable with paying sufficiently large sums for a GAA subscription service.

The argument around RTE’s coverage is more sensible, given that it has the equipment, the expertise, and the employees already in place.

It’s also the state broadcaster, although as so often on this island that’s a complicated description which can lead to problems up north which we won’t go into here.

Yet the scale of the operation that would be involved for significantly expanded coverage explains (partly) why RTE’s highlights show, ‘The Sunday Game’, doesn’t show anywhere near as many games as most people would like.

Re-runs of ‘The Big Match’ seem to suggest that there was a more egalitarian ethos to that soccer show in the Seventies, with games covered down the divisions of the football pyramid, not just in Division One (as was in the those pre-Premier League days).

Yet ITV wasn’t run by a bunch of altruists who admired the likes of Brentford and Reading just as much as the bigger clubs such as Arsenal and Liverpool.

The reality was that, for logistical reasons, most of the matches covered were within London or a certain limited distance from the English capital.

As outside broadcast units improved, the cameras of ‘The Big Match’ and ‘Match of the Day’ almost exclusively went to top flight grounds.

As regards the GAA, if there’s ever going to be a wider remit then there’s a bigger picture to look at first.

The lead towards more widespread coverage has to be taken by the authorities, not the broadcasters.

The latter are, quite understandably, driven by audience figures and income from sponsors.

The GAA is (supposed to be) concerned with the promotion of Gaelic games.

Even they have financial aspects to consider, though. In an ideal world they’d ensure equal coverage of all counties, but the real world dictates that broadcasters are more interested in certain sides, only prepared to pay the big bucks for the bigger games.

If the GAA were to insist on a coverage scheme that was deemed less attractive to broadcasters then the latter might pay less; then the complaints would be about reduced grant funding coming out from Central Council.

In the highly unlikely scenario that Dublin or Kerry dropped down a division or two that approach might alter, given the level of interest in those counties.

In the present reality, that’s not going to happen – but the Dubs and the Kingdom could still be in different divisions.

One way to get more coverage of more counties would involve re-structuring the football league format, returning to the A/B (1A, 1B, 2A, 2B) system rather than the current 1/2/3/4 model.

With the trial run of a Tier Two Championship coming this summer, some counties might fear going to a two-tier league as well, worrying that they’d be below the top table for the entire season rather than just part of it.

Yet that A/B format would give more counties greater chances to compete against at least some of the bigger guns.

There’s a growing groundswell calling to go back to A/B for competitive reasons, to re-balance playing standards and stop the top teams pulling even further away.

Teams almost always outside Division One cannot gain top level experience, with obvious consequences come Championship time.

Sure, even with a reversion to the A/B model, there’d still be the possibility that the cameras’ focus would largely be on matches involving certain counties, so that there wouldn’t be complete coverage of even Divisions 1A and 1B, never mind 2A or 2B.

However, there would definitely be a greater range of games shown if Dublin and Kerry were in different divisions – and they could still meet in the final.

Hurling has that A/B set-up, which has its own flaws – but at the very least the cameras tend to focus on more counties than in football.