For many, confirmation yesterday that Joe Brolly won’t be part of RTÉ’s All-Ireland SFC final replay coverage this Saturday spells the end of the Derry native’s 18 years with the national broadcaster.
That may turn out to be the case but there is an explanation for his absence other than the obvious.
For one, Brolly is coaching a St Brigid’s minor football team that play an Antrim semi-final this weekend and as of yesterday evening, it was not yet certain if the game would clash with the Dublin-Kerry game.
With a day less to prepare, RTÉ would also have been keen to finalise their personnel early this week.
Those factors combined, it is a legitimate reason but then management in Montrose were known to be extremely disappointed with the performance of the live panel for last Sunday week’s draw.
In correspondence before this year’s All-Ireland finals, analysts had been reminded not to talk over one another and keep interruptions to a minimum. That wasn’t the case at half-time when Jonny Cooper’s penalty concession and subsequent red card were up for discussion.
Under new RTÉ Head of Sport Declan McBennett, there is more feedback provided to contributors.
For pre-match analysis, specific topics of discussion per pundit have been distributed. For a maverick like Brolly, that amount of direction isn’t exactly ideal.
Speaking to the Irish Daily Star last month, Brolly spoke of having the backing of McBennett but had concerns about whether his abandon was still as appreciated as it had been.
"You would almost feel, ‘Oh, troublemaker here’. It’s never reached the stage where anyone has said, ‘You shouldn’t say that’. I have to say that I’ve got full support since Declan took over.’’
If Brolly is feeling a pinch, then so too are other mainstays.
If there was going to be an alteration on the live panel, Colm O’Rourke might have been expected to return to his customary spot but he will remain on the evening show this Saturday with former Mayo manager and current Donegal coach Stephen Rochford taking the seat between Ciaran Whelan and Pat Spillane.
Last Sunday week was the first time since 2014 that the long-standing triumvirate of Brolly, O’Rourke, and Pat Spillane was broken up. For the Kerry-Donegal decider five years ago, Whelan took the place of Spillane on the live panel alongside Brolly and O’Rourke.
Brolly, O’Rourke, and Spillane have been the anchor panellists going back to the conclusion of Spillane’s stint in the mid 2000s as the presenter of The Sunday Game highlights show.
With the retirement of presenter Michael Lyster last year and the introduction of Joanne Cantwell as his replacement, there had already been an alteration on the live programme but before Brolly’s absence this Saturday, O’Rourke’s switch to the night televising had demonstrated a changing of the guard.
A Sunday Game analyst since 2001, a year after he retired, Brolly is one of several long- to medium-term pundits whose contracts finish up this year. If his number of appearances on RTÉ this summer — believed to be 17 — are anything to go by, he will be back on screens again in 2020, but then belts are being tightened further in Montrose.
In that interview last month, Brolly admitted he would no longer be on RTÉ’s books had he said now what he crudely said about Marty Morrissey four years ago.
"Declan’s not a pushover, nor should he be.’’
Brolly apologised then as he did to Sky Sports GAA presenter Rachel Gredley Wyse the year previous, and as he did the year before that to Seán Cavanagh. Consider his most recent act of contrition to David Gough last week and he’s had to say sorry four times in the last six years.
Them’s the breaks with commissioning a firebrand pundit for whom the rewards have outnumbered the risks for so many seasons.
On the front page of The Star’s pullout promoting their interview with Brolly was a large photograph of the man himself beside Sky Sports’ logo, the sponsors of the newspaper’s GAA coverage.
The irony of that wouldn’t be lost on a man who has so passionately argued for all live championship games to be made free-to-air. RTÉ wouldn’t have exactly been upset about those sentiments.
But out of the limelight on Saturday, he might also be out of time.
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