The pundit championship is no second-tier competition

We had the Holy Communion in the house last week, our two boys decked out in their three-piece suits like they were about to appear on The Sunday Game, and along with the rest of their classmates, they enjoyed the ceremony and celebrations under gorgeous May sunshine.

The pundit championship is no second-tier competition

We had the Holy Communion in the house last week, our two boys decked out in their three-piece suits like they were about to appear on The Sunday Game, and along with the rest of their classmates, they enjoyed the ceremony and celebrations under gorgeous May sunshine.

If you haven’t been through one, a modern communion is much like a big wedding. The style, the family, the cash, the event management. It’s become big business. And like most things in modern life, the bigger the better apparently.

In a strange way, the whole event reminded me of the increasingly saturated world of GAA commentary. I don’t particularly like the term punditry, there no real meaning in it for me, but there’s no disputing it’s growth as a significant by-product of modern Gaelic Games.

Long gone are the days when a couple of broadsheet newspapers had one or two talented scribes who covered all the action in gloriously colourful detail, or there was only one radio station to paint a vivid picture of a championship clash for you to soak up through the airwaves.

With the eruption of social media in the past decade or so, the market for news - and sports news in particular - is a different beast. The mobile phone has become the gateway to the rest of the world, and it can take you there in an instant.

Sports media had to shift too, and it’s an industry that revolves around the opinions of former players now more than at any time in the past. And that’s not to say there aren’t brilliant contributors who never played the game at a high level or at any level for that matter, but they’re not the ones leading the conversation right now.

Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher are the former rivals turned dynamic duo who guide us through the Premier Lhip on Sky Sports every week. Former quarterback Tony Romo has become the voice of the NFL in the States, in the same way that Shaq, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley dominate the NBA conversation on TNT.

Closer to home, Ronan O’Gara, Shane Horgan, Keith Wood and Donal Lenihan among others bring us behind the scenes and into the minds of players and coaches during the rugby season. I’m not even scratching the surface here, but you get the picture.

The biggest influencers in the game currently are those who have first-hand experience of the trenches. That’s appears to be the model. Just think about those who will narrate your GAA championship 2019 through their weekly national newspaper columns alone; Anthony Daly, Joe Brolly, Tomás O Sé, Donal O’Grady, Éamonn Fitzmaurice, Henry Shefflin, Kieran Donaghy, Eamon McGee, Alan Brogan and plenty more besides.

And that’s before you look at websites, radio slots, podcasts and the purely online content. Instead of a journalism degree, having a medal or high-level experience and a good ghostwriter (in some cases) are the most important prerequisites to contributing to the national conversation. That’s a heavy dose of guys coming from a similar angle, so it puts everybody under pressure to deliver something meaningful that will connect with people.

It’s like one big communion party for the entire GAA summer where the majority of commentators on TV, radio, print and online try to create the bigger story. Everybody on the circuit wanting to have a bigger bouncy castle than the rest of their class to draw attention to themselves.

When I started out, the common recommendation from friends was to ‘cut the legs off someone to make a name for yourself’. The logic being, that by going in two-footed on a player or manager, you were somehow putting yourself out there as somebody who takes no prisoners.

Instant notoriety in a modern media world fuelled by immediate gratification. It was rubbish advice then, and it’s still rubbish advice now. Nevertheless, there are some who still periodically subscribe to the same misguided theory.

The numbers of clicks and hits are where its at. Sensationalism stands out and sells in a swamped market. GAA president John Horan referenced it last week when speaking about the promotion and potential media exposure of the possible tier two football competition.

He spoke about RTÉ and Sky’s bottom line when selecting which games to televise, almost lamenting the fact that; “they are driven by nothing other than numbers”.

But a media entity choosing the content that they feel will generate the most traction is hardly a shocking revelation?

There’s a reason why CBS set a record of $5.25 million per 30-second ad during halftime of last season’s Superbowl. The bigger the numbers, the bigger the potential revenue.

Of course, it’s not just the TV. The GAA media is a numbers game as fierce as anything you’ll see on the field of play this season - the pundit championship is no second-tier competition.

There will be an abundance of content for supporters to binge on again this summer; some of it will be entertaining, some of it no doubt will be insightful and illuminating, and more of it will be as dull as dishwater.

As a consumer, I’ve found there are generally two types of GAA commentator out there; one is trying to tell you a story so you can leave with something, while the other is trying hard to be the story.

Much like the Communion, it was never supposed to be about who had the largest party and petting zoo in their back garden on the day, in the same way that inter-county football and hurling shouldn’t be so consumed by whatever pundit is shouting loudest for attention. At the end of the day, the players and not the pundits write the script.

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