When the GAA signed a broadcasting deal with Sky Sports, it was argued that the competition would force RTÉ to improve the standard of their coverage.
Judging by RTÉ’s performance on Sunday, that theory has only proved to be partially true.
There is no doubt that RTÉ has improved its game. Before Sky entered the fold, RTÉ had stopped sending their analysts to the games.
Citing budgetary constraints as the reason for cutbacks, Colm, Pat and Joe watched glumly from a studio in Dublin as events unfolded elsewhere. For a barrister like Joe Brolly, it was the equivalent of providing testimony by video link.
Like the slogan says: ‘nothing beats being there’.
Once Sky entered the arena, lo and behold, RTÉ suddenly produced the money to finance a studio at the matches.
At Ballybofey last Sunday, there was more evidence of RTÉ loosening their purse strings. The investment in a camera located in a crane behind the goals provided an array of extraordinary shots.
To fully appreciate the nuances of the blanket defence, and the movement which is required to beat it, an aerial perspective is required.
On Sunday night, Ciarán Whelan was able to use footage from the camera in the cherry picker to illustrate how a clever run by Christy Toye outmanoeuvred Tyrone’s packed defence.
On recent evidence, it appears that RTÉ viewers are going to start enjoying a vastly improved service.
Sadly, it’s not all good news. The competition with Sky also appears to have had other effects on RTÉ – and not all of them are positive.
When RTÉ enjoyed a virtual monopoly on TV rights, they never hesitated to criticise a poor refereeing performance.
Indeed, their willingness to micro-analyse the smallest mistake was a longstanding bugbear of the GAA.
It was an open secret that RTÉ’s readiness to ridicule the man-in-the-middle was a source of friction between the broadcaster and Croke Park.
Evidently, Sky’s entry into the marketplace has forced a rethink at RTÉ.
Following the four hours of coverage which was devoted to the game between Donegal and Tyrone, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the new motto at Montrose is: ‘don’t mention the ref.’
As voluntary officials charged with an incredibly difficult job, inter-county referees should be afforded some latitude, and it would be wrong to be overly critical when they make mistakes.
However, when a referee has a fundamental impact on the outcome of a game, then his performance warrants an assessment.
Not only did Joe McQuillan have a poor game in Ballybofey, his display also highlighted a worrying trend which was a feature of the National League.
Anyone who watched a few games in the league will know that county referees are point-blank refusing to implement the black card rule. In the league, their brazen refusal to apply the rules was borderline comical.
The legislation on the black card is incredibly clear. On page 82 of the Official Guide it states that it’s a black card offence:
1) To deliberately pull down an opponent.
2) To deliberately trip an opponent with hand(s), arm, leg or foot.
3) To deliberately body collide with an opponent after he has played the ball away or for the purpose of taking him out of the movement of play.
4) To remonstrate in an aggressive manner with a match official.
Consider for a moment the match which was witnessed at MacCumhaill Park last Sunday. There were multiple third man tackles.
There was a deliberate trip in the 35th minute. There was a deliberate pull down in the 60th minute.
Yet, for reasons which defy all logic, a black card wasn’t produced until the 67th minute. Now that is a joke.
To compound matters, when McQuillan showed Sean Cavanagh a black card, he was wrong.
When Martin O’Reilly made a high tackle in the first half, McQuillan brandished a yellow card. When Cavanagh committed a similar offence, McQuillan gave the Tyrone captain a black card.
In the old, pre-Sky days, McQuillan’s catalogue of errors would have been put under the microscope. Yet on Sunday, two different sets of analysts barely mentioned him. The silence was damning.
Besides this failure to draw proper attention to the referee’s performance, the RTÉ analysts also failed to recognise Tyrone’s incredibly gullible defending.
Anyone who recorded the match should watch how the Tyrone defence is positioned for the Donegal kick-outs which took place in the 48th and 60th minute.
It’s like watching a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final between Donegal and Dublin.
On that occasion, Donegal created goal chances by sucking Dublin’s half-backs out of position.
When Paul Durcan’s long booming kick-out sailed over their heads, Donegal’s cavalry were racing towards goal and Dublin’s defenders were chasing the ball. The tactic won the game for Donegal.
The same tactic should have produced two goals for Donegal on Sunday.
When Frank McGlynn collected a break from Paul Durcan’s long kick-out in the 48th minute, only one Tyrone defender was facing the play. McGlynn, Patrick McBrearty and Colm McFadden were all involved in the attack. If McBrearty had squared the ball to McFadden, it would have been a tap-in goal.
In the 60th minute, the Red Hands fell for the exact same ploy again. When Karl Lacey won the break from Durcan’s kick-out, only two Tyrone defenders were facing the play as five Donegal players charged forward.
Colm McFadden was eventually fouled by a despairing lunge from Tiarnan McCann.
A converted close range free-kick was one of the three points which separated the teams at the finish.
Bear in mind that the move for Donegal’s goal in the first half was started when Colm McFadden won possession from a long kick-out by Durcan.
Considering the mania which Tyrone’s blanket defence generated in the league, it’s difficult to understand why RTÉ’s analysts weren’t intrigued by the tactics which allowed Donegal to create goal-scoring opportunities against such a negative team.
Instead, viewers of The Sunday Game were treated to a few random clips which showed Justin McMahon marking Michael Murphy at close quarters.
RTÉ were keen to convey the idea that McMahon was guilty of some serious misdemeanours.
But their footage was utterly unconvincing.
This was a match in which RTÉ failed to identify a series of errors by the referee.
They also failed to highlight a tactic which helped Donegal cause one of the greatest shocks in Gaelic football, and which helped them beat Tyrone on Sunday.
All that evidence was at their disposal begging to be discussed but it was ignored. Instead, they went trawling for footage of Justin McMahon which they failed to find.
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