Kicking Out: Analysis choking the life out of personalities

Joe Brolly, Colm O'Rourke and Pat Spillane were at their best when they were let run free. Their day is over but GAA punditry is crying out for fresh personalities to be given space to breathe.
Joe Brolly, Colm O'Rourke and Pat Spillane were at their best when they were let run free. Their day is over but GAA punditry is crying out for fresh personalities to be given space to breathe.

“GENTLEMEN, that brings an end to our first outing for the summer, and I can tell you, it is going to be a long summer.”

Michael Lyster’s delivery perfectly encapsulated his feelings on the two minutes that had just gone before.

Donegal had just beaten Tyrone in the Ulster Championship preliminary round game in 2015.

The debate got up about Michael Murphy.

Joe Brolly argued he was the most influential player in Gaelic football.

“That’s a really stupid thing to say,” Colm O’Rourke bounced back.

Pat Spillane literally started to bounce off his chair.

And off it went. For all of 90 seconds, it was gripping, animated TV. It was live, unscripted, and it was real.

This is not a cry for the return of yore.

The day of Brolly, Spillane and O’Rourke is over. Same for Dunphy, Giles and Brady, who entertained a nation but offered precious little proper insight in the last 15 years.

Punditry not only needs loud voices but it needs ones relevant to its audience, and given how few of the viewers would ever have seen any of the three of them play football indicates that a freshening is due.

Last Monday, Sky Sports put on a show about football, containing two hours of a live football match, that nobody watched to see the game.

Monday Night Football on Sky Sports has become addictive, must-see TV for football fans.

Its great intoxicant is that it makes the discussion around the game something we all want to listen to.

For the tactics head, the forensic dissection of why things in a game happen as they do can be fascinating.

And that’s great for the nouveau-riche supporter who considers the modern scientific theories on sport to be the essential component, and therefore needing to be talked about at great length.

There are huge numbers of people interested in all that.

And there are perhaps even bigger numbers who think it’s all bullshit, a language made up by people convincing themselves they’re smarter than you, and then trying to convince you of the same.

Sport is a serious business. But foremost it remains a form of entertainment.

That’s where Monday Night Football ticks the boxes.

Gary Neville isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Nor is Jamie Carragher.

They’re two very different sides of the same coin.

‘Love me, hate me, but you can’t ignore me’ comes to mind.

Their biggest success is that they have modernised the Richard Keys – Andy Gray theme that was a massive strength on Sky Sports for so many years.

The particular brand those two brought became outdated and Sky have been better rid of them since they did go, but for a long time after they left, pure vanilla was served up under a Super Sunday heading.

And in the sports entertainment industry, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

Neville and Carragher have become the most unlikely on-screen pairing.

Their ability to not only laugh at themselves and each other, but also to have a proper debate in which they can take opposing sides, argue their case and then reset for the next one.

Perhaps one of the biggest elements of it all though is presenter Dave Jones. He has become the perfect referee. Steps in only when he’s needed, asks the right questions, takes the conversation the right direction and lets it flow.

Michael Lyster was of the same school, as was Bill O'Herlihy. Never underestimate their role.

The end result is natural. It’s the TV equivalent of three men in the bar arguing over a football match, and no matter who they are or what they’ve won, half the viewers will feel that one of them is talking garbage.

Last Monday night, what we got for an hour before the game was an impassioned, lively debate that was let run free.

It’s a show that has laid down a template for successful sports broadcasting.

Can we look at how the GAA is presented on TV and say that it’s being done as well as it could be? You’d think not.

Sky came into the market and have changed how it is being done. Again, the argument over whether games should be on Sky at all is for another day.

Unquestionably, a lot of what they’ve brought to the table in terms of how they present the games is for the better.

Their analysis is on a different planet altogether compared to RTÉ’s.

You watch their hour before a game and get the sense that a full week’s work has gone into it. That the analysis has been pored over. Generally, you come away from it enlightened in some form or other.

Rightly or wrongly, it still feels as though RTÉ are doing their analysis because Sky are doing it, and sure it’d look terrible if we didn’t at least try.

There’s the obvious financial argument – a publically funded broadcaster that has been making cuts, cuts and more cuts against a broadcasting behemoth with no end to its resources.

And Sky are not perfect either. Because why they appeal to the tactics heads, does their output capture the imagination of the public who are there to be entertained? Not really.

The conversation can all be very tight and wooden and doesn’t really stray beyond the parameters of who’s playing who today.

In getting rid of Brolly, RTÉ rid themselves of the one man in the industry that people tuned in to hear the opinion of. Weeks we all disagreed, thought he’d lost it, and then he’d bring you back onside with a good point. And then he’d follow it with another tirade and everyone would be off hating him again.

Who talked about RTÉ’s football coverage last year?

Their school of punditry contains some huge GAA figures of the last 40 years but on the whole, it is lacking.

Joanne Cantwell has fantastic promise as a presenter because she knows her game as well as anyone out there. But a page or two from the Dave Jones playbook of Less Is More would perhaps allow the conversation to breathe around her.

That said, not her fault she ends up pulling her pundits up for being wrong.

The whole thing just feels like it’s fallen in the middle of two stools.

Sky are too rigid and RTÉ have moved away from what they were best at, but they aren’t as good at the other thing as Sky are.

It’s all just crying out for a couple of big, fun personalities to break through and breathe some life into it.

It’s all become an obsession with PC and box-ticking that doesn’t let people breathe.

In letting Neville, Carragher, Micah Richards, Roy Keane, even bloody Jamie Redknapp all loose, Sky have stumbled upon the right formula in soccer.

They’ve also stumbled upon the right people in the chairs. People with energy and humour and whose personalities sometimes clash.

The best days of Brolly, Spillane and O’Rourke were those days in Ballybofey when they clashed and a real argument would break out, and Spillane’s face would go beetroot red, his hands tucked between his thighs when he got shouted down.

Brolly never got shouted down, because he kept shouting until he either won or the match started.

We’re crying out for something new that’s a bit closer to them.

The drive towards analysis is choking the life out of the personalities delivering it.