Dónal Óg Cusack and Derek McGrath did the State some service

Dónal Óg Cusack and Derek McGrath did the State some service

Ten years ago the Late Late Show did a special edition marking 125 years of the GAA. It was presented by Pat Kenny. The expectations of most GAA folk were not high beforehand. The expectations were justified.

A storm of complaint ensued, with the programme criticised for everything from the lack of female interviewees to Kenny’s rewriting of history when sucking up to Bertie Ahern, the man who in 2001 had given the GAA £60m to keep Croke Park closed.

The Late Late Show’s producer was unapologetic. “We got great viewing figures,” he declared.

Ignoring the matter of the notion of producing good TV for its own sake, it was a bracing riposte.

Whatever about the viewing figures for last week’s edition of The Sunday Game, the Twitter response was off the scale.

No wonder. Respect and disrespect. Puke football. Paul Kinnerk. The British Empire, John Bull and Jack Charlton. Societal issues and the implications for the inter-county game of third-level hurling. Sweepers and stoppers and call out the coppers. Whoa, dude.

They all had their say afterwards. Supporters, pundits, players, former players, even former players’ wives. Not that The Sunday Game should measure out its worth in Twitter coverage, nor does it, but there’s only one thing in the world worse than being tweeted about. Some of the response was measured and fair; some of it entailed settling scores and saddling up familiar hobbyhorses. Perhaps there will never come a day when Dónal Óg Cusack and Derek McGrath are for very different reasons not lightning rods.

Did things take a swerve in the middle of the analysis of the Tipperary/Wexford match? Yes. Was McGrath emotionally invested in this part of the debate to an undue degree? Clearly. Did Dónal Óg lay it on with a trowel? Yes, but that’s part of what makes Dónal Óg Dónal Óg. Full calibre, both barrels, fire at will.

Might both of them have made their points a little more felicitously here? They might. But did McGrath claim that a third-level education was essential for an inter-county career? Patently not.

Did Brendan Cummins, a cracking discovery by RTÉ, look a little lonely? For a while.

The section that aroused the controversy lasted for a little over three and a half minutes. It was followed by a terrific deconstruction by McGrath and Cummins of the Kilkenny/Limerick match, with particular attention to the winners’ defensive configuration, that was light years ahead of the kind of insight the programme would have offered even three or four seasons ago. Proceedings finished off with a look at the weekend’s officiating and a couple of suggestions from Cusack about how best to help the men in the middle.

RTÉ’s take is that this was an above-average edition of the show, full of incisive analysis, that was overshadowed by the bit in the middle. Not for the first time, one was left to rue the fact the national broadcaster do not possess the rights for a follow-up Monday night venture.

Animated as the conversation became, the doctrinal war in regard to sweepers is all but over. A couple of years ago an inordinate number of hurling folk appeared to take the concept of an extra defender as a personal affront. Opinions have changed, or at any rate mellowed.

If a manager wants to use a seventh defender, whether for the season or for a particular fixture, it’s his funeral. He is consciously trading additional security at the back for reduced firepower up front. That’s his call and he’s entitled to make it. Right?

Employed constructively, a sweeper can be the springboard for a positive approach, as it was for Wexford last Sunday (the point in the first half by Liam Ryan, their full-back, was of a type never scored in the championship before, an astonishing piece of work and evidence that the sport continues to evolve), rather than the comfort blanket that ordains a negative approach, as it was for the county in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-final. Right?

Managers do not impose a sweeper with the intention of winning the MacCarthy Cup. McGrath did so to stop Waterford haemorrhaging goals; Davy did so to get Wexford out of Division 1B. For Waterford it worked to such an extent that they won the National League and reached an All-Ireland final; for Wexford it worked to such an extent that it got them promoted, kept them in Division 1A, secured them a provincial title and brought them to within a few minutes of an All-Ireland final. Right?

Teams that win All-Irelands possess good forwards. Teams that possess good forwards don’t need a sweeper. Right?If you ever complained about The Sunday Game being staid and predictable, you weren’t complaining last Monday. It made us think and it made us talk (and made some of us get very irritated indeed). In doing so it fulfilled a significant part of its remit.

Regardless of the viewing figures.

Tis the season to be twitchy

Five more days till the transfer window closes and the natives in several parts of England are restless.

Liverpool, the champions of Europe, bought nobody and lost 3-0 to Napoli last Sunday. Cue twitchy supporters.

Spurs, runners-up in Europe and not having bought a player for about 17 years, made one big signing. Cue twitchy supporters and a #BackPoch campaign on Twitter.

Manchester United bought two youngsters and as this page went to bed they had yet to sign Paulo Dybala or Bruno Fernandes, although Harry Maguire’s arrival looks imminent for twitchy supporters.

Fortunately every coin has two faces.

Chelsea couldn’t sign anyone, with the result their supporters can’t be twitchy. Manchester City added a defensive midfielder, and even if they hadn’t their supporters had no cause to be twitchy. And Arsenal, who supposedly didn’t possess a pot in which to urinate, as evidenced by their offer of 20 quid and a copy of Bob Wilson’s autobiography to Palace for Wilfried Zaha, went and shattered their club record, meaning an end to twitchy supporters on the red side of north London.

Nine months of madness lie before us. Everyone will be twitchy sooner or later. Maybe Liverpool and Spurs were simply getting their twitchiness in first.

Heroes & villains

Stairway to Heaven

Jody Townend: Won the feature event in Galway on Monday following three back operations in the past nine months. Unquestionaly the best and toughest jockey in the family.

James Sanders: Unemployed New Zealander who’s looking forward to a nice little earner after a Don Bradman bat from the Bodyline Ashes series he picked up for a few hundred dollars at an auction is expected to fetch up to €35,000 when it goes under the hammer in Melbourne next week.

Hell in a Handcart

Harvey Elliott: Hardly a wet week with Liverpool and already getting himself in trouble on social media. Perversely reassuring to see that in a constantly changing world, 16-year-olds remain 16-year-olds.

Shamrock Rovers: A red card early in extra time followed by the concession of a killer third goal. A long journey to Limassol and an even longer journey back.

Dalo's extra-time podcast: Should there be two referees in inter-county hurling?

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