JOHN FOGARTY: All too much for RTÉ

Donegal's Paddy McGrath

Alan Hansen doesn’t do live TV anymore. After 22 years, he finished up as BBC’s Match of the Day anchor pundit in 2014. Commanding he was, but not without sin, Manchester United coming back to haunt him following his infamous “kids” remark in 1995.

“Live television is always stressful and the more you do it, the more you realise what can go wrong,” he remarked.

Ger Loughnane, privately anyway, might testify to the same after Sunday’s half-time comment that Tipperary, nine points down, were finished:

The game is over completely. You’ve one team with pace, skill, and movement and then you have another team, Tipperary, who, unfortunately, have come to the end of the line.

Those Cork supporters who remember the 1991 Munster final replay wouldn’t have agreed and so it proved again, though Tipperary didn’t win on this occasion and, for all the backslaps they received, they must win their final two games to ensure their season doesn’t finish in the province.

If they don’t, Loughnane, who made an excellent point about Tipperary’s attitude prior to the game, could end up being right on his latter point. Also, what’s as sure as night follows day, is that he has only strengthened his brand and remained consistent with his reputation for making pre-emptive remarks.

However, he did stray into the erroneous at the interval, when claiming four of Tipperary’s back six were over 30 — the eldest of the sextet, Michael Cahill, remains 29 until January. Pádraic Maher turns 30 the following month.

In the evening’s programme, it was mentioned that Leitrim and Tipperary’s footballers were in yesterday morning’s qualifier draw.

Meath were mentioned as having no talent coming through, despite their minors defeating Dublin the previous week for the second time in as many years. At least the claim was countered; often they are not.

There was also no mention of Carlow’s majestic shooting return of posting no wides on Sunday. Expecting Colm Cooper and Seán Cavanagh to give incisive analysis of eight matches is ambitious, especially if they might only be exposed to highlights of most.

Even in two-and-a-half hours, the offering appeared squeezed and footage of the Derry-Donegal Ulster quarter-final being shown at 11.45pm was hardly ideal.

On the previous Sunday’s show, there was no mention of the Joe McDonagh Cup, which this year feeds into the Liam MacCarthy Cup in the form of preliminary quarter-finals. Pat Spillane made a remark that must have upset his superiors in the RTÉ sports department as much as Croke Park.

People will say out there on social media that we should be giving much more coverage to these smaller games and the minnows and that we’ve got rid of them, but we’re only reflecting what’s happening in the GAA world. What we’re reflecting is the fact that the weaker counties aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

He concluded: “The bottom line is that in the GAA, sadly at the moment, it’s about money, it’s about earning money. The strong are getting stronger and the weak are just being forgotten about.”

Sunday Game pundit, former Kerry footballer Pat Spillane
Sunday Game pundit, former Kerry footballer Pat Spillane

RTÉ may have received an angry call from Croke Park the following morning, but if they are doing their job right, their phone should be buzzing most Mondays.

However, their main problem is falling between two stools: Trying to produce a cutting-edge show with ample highlights and thought-provoking analysis while hoping to cater for everyone. It’s simply not possible and their attempt, while admirable, falls short.

Football-wise, some of the analysts seem to be counting the days until the Super 8 in July. That is, in a manner of speaking, understandable. Carlow and Longford’s successes aside, the average 10-point margin between teams is another indication the systems are flagging.

If RTÉ want to give sufficient time to matches, the return of The Monday Game is necessary. With the extra matches this year, we asked the GAA’s commercial director Peter McKenna in January if the organisation would be keen for RTÉ to put together a more expansive highlights package: “No, we do that ourselves through ‘GAA Now’. That currently happens and that’s something we’re going to continue to push.”

McKenna spoke about games not being televised, but being streamed on ‘GAAGo’, but that has not yet happened, though it may do so for the final rounds of the provincial hurling championships and/or in the Super 8.

There is already a recognition in Croke Park that the decision to stick with the TV deals signed at the end of 2016, while amplifying the number of matches in both senior championships, might have been a mistake. They have felt supporters’ ire, as too have RTÉ, who as a public broadcasting service are duty-bound to represent and
reflect. As Spillane said, they’re doing just that, but more so the reality of the GAA landscape than the ideal.

Is ‘handicap’ plan a solution for Leinster?

At the Leinster senior football championship preview in Trim earlier this month, interviews with players and management were called to a halt as provincial chairman Jim Bolger addressed attendees. Bolger mentioned how the council wa s providing extra funding for foot ball development in Dublin’s neighbours Kildare, Louth, Meath, and Wicklow.

Although it’s almost two years since the €1.5m East Leinster project was announced, the news of it came as a surprise to one player who openly asked upon Bolger’s remarks why his county weren’t benefitting from the same. As well as the four aforementioned counties, his team are now out of the provincial competition.

It’s the belief of Leinster chief executive Michael Reynolds that the initiative will reap dividends in the future — “Its impact for the years to come will be significant,” he said in his annual report earlier this year.

It is important for all units participating to embrace in a positive manner — asking what they (the units) can do to enhance the project rather than saying what can the project, on its own, do for the units.

Reynolds is correct and Meath, for all their woes at senior level, appear to be making progress at minor, but the football malaise in Leinster extends beyond the hinterland of the capital. Everyone in the province, not just Dublin’s neighbours, are defined by what the All-Ireland champions do.

It’s a huge shadow to come out from and, for all the inroads that the likes of Carlow are making, they are incremental compared to what Dublin achieve. More and more players aren’t seeing an inter-county future when Dublin are so strong.

At that same launch, Laois captain John O’Loughlin stressed the importance of dividing up the funding cake equally. It might be regarded as a simplistic solution given there are vastly more people living in Dublin but a variation of a handicap system, be it in competition or in funding, may be required to save Leinster football.

Scoring difference key in new system

Recovery’ is the buzzword of these new provincial hurling championships but ‘adaptability’ is the key one. The teams that are most capable of responding to these new environs will prosper and it’s obvious Offaly, without a break these last three weekends, are the ones finding it most difficult.

Last week, we mentioned how the negative reactions to Clare and Tipperary’s defeats were founded in the old knockout mentality. It’s difficult now not to believe Waterford will suffer more after a most calamitous afternoon in Ennis where they lost five more players to the four they were already missing from going into the game. Will their supporters follow them “home” to Limerick on Sunday?

But adaptability also relates to how losing teams are finishing games. Against Limerick last Sunday week, Tipperary went gung-ho for a goal when the cleverer approach might have been to aim high given the opposition were out of reach and the important matter of score difference, a factor now underlined after they and Cork drew in Thurles.

Kilkenny were distant second to Galway in the closing stages but were as determined as Tipperary in the Gaelic Grounds to find the net — and, unlike Tipp, they managed to, thanks to Walter Walsh — but cooler heads might have prompted them to take their points.

After all, they’ve finished level with Wexford in Nowlan Park already this year and their game there Sunday week is likely to go a long way to deciding who plays in the Leinster final. And Wexford did their score difference a world of good when beating Offaly by 24 points on Saturday. It’s not just supporters but players who have found it difficult to move away from those knockout sensibilities.

It’s what they have known all their lives but this is a whole new ball game. By next year everyone will learn but for some this season their education could turn out to be too late.

- john.fogarty@examiner.ie

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