Here’s a thought. Eoin Morgan spent mere minutes at the crease against Australia before being bowled out for four runs on Tuesday and yet we’ve seen more of the England cricket captain on our TV screens since last weekend than we have any hurlers or footballers. Or, for that matter, anyone we might associate in any way with our national games: be that past players, pundits or administrators. The GAA is nothing more than a rumour as far as TV goes midweek. Like the ‘good room’, it is kept under lock and key until the occasion calls for it.
It’s beyond madness.
TG4 doesn’t even have the live rights to the men’s All-Ireland hurling or football championships and yet they screen more GAA-related material from Monday to Friday than anyone. This week’s offerings amounted to their GAA 2019 highlights show (and repeats), All-Ireland GAA Gold, and the documentary ‘GAA Club na mBan’.
Sky Sports offered their own one-hour highlights package, plus a five-minute documentary in which Kieran Donaghy examines teenage dropout rates. And that was it, basically. The rest of the TV listings was a wasteland for the GAA at a time when their market value is never higher.
Come the weekend then and we’re bombarded with games. That schedule has as much balance as a donkey on stilts. This feast or famine approach has been allowed fester by the GAA and it simply isn’t fit for purpose in an age when we are bombarded by sports on the box 24/7. Worst still, it will be 2022, when the current rights contracts run out, before there is even the hint of anything changing.
But imagine a rights package that made midweek programming as integral to the discussions as the bundles of live games. Let’s look ahead four seasons to the summer of 2023 and imagine a simple scenario where the GAA isn’t some spectral ghost on the TV listings through the working week.
Some of these ‘ideas’ are so obvious as to read like a kindergarten ABC book. They’re certainly nothing new. First order of business would be to end the practice of kicking off ‘The Sunday Game’ evening programme with the same matches that were shown live that very afternoon. It’s daft. And it looks lazy if nothing else. Personalities and opinions are all in the eye or ear of the beholder but it’s not asking too much to move the needle onto other games come the evening. Which brings us to...
‘The Monday Game’ highlights show hasn’t been seen on our screens since the turn of the millennium. There were 60 hurling and football championship games played in the summer of 2000. Last year, that number reached 99. That’s a 60% increase. How, in the name of God, is a two-hour slot on a Sunday meant to cater for that?
Queries on this and other midweek matters should be aimed at Croke Park, not Montrose, by the way. It rests with the GAA’s top brass to divvy up who can screen what content on given nights. If nothing else, a reborn Monday highlights offering would bring an end to complaints that highlights of games involving Team X or Y amounted to nothing more than 30 or 45 seconds.
We’re inundated with fine GAA podcasts – the Irish Examiner’s offering of a Monday comes highly recommended – while radio offers tidbits of intelligent and informed chat. But there is a yawning gap in the TV market for the sort of simple but effective show that needs no bells and whistles or fancy studio settings.
TG4’s Seó Spóirt, which aired for 11 years before being axed in April, was a prime example. All it needed was a sofa and a few heads who knew how to talk. And it worked. Total cost per episode: a few bob for the lights and a generous supply of tae and biscuits for the green room.
A highlights show for the lower tiers with informed analysis dedicated to the have-nots. Simple as that. Some Joe McDonagh Cup, maybe even a bit of Christy Ring and more thrown in for the hurling fraternity. And for the big ball fans a chunk of the action from whatever the second-tier championship is to be called after its introduction is pushed through Congress.
There has been many an attempt at the definitive GAA magazine show but Breaking Ball was the best by a distance given it was well-produced, quirky and with an insight into previously ignored corners of the GAA and its people. This is no-brainer TV: easy on the eye and ear, the sort of stuff that rugby and football do effortlessly. A Thursday evening slot would serve as the perfect bridge between the weekend just gone and the action to come.
Now we’re not advocating that this should be a weekly thing but others have made the case for the odd Friday night lights championship affair and we’d be all for it. Usual provisos would apply: organised months in advance, two neighbouring counties and minimal travel/work disruptions. The League of Ireland constituency wouldn’t be happy but all’s fair etc etc...
Is it unrealistic to think that we could have some sort of programme of a Saturday morning to tee up the weekend’s action? A GAA version of the BBC’s Football Focus hardly seems like rocket science, or a budget buster. You’d even take an Irish twist on Saint and Greavsie although we’d draw a line at Soccer AM. Who knows? Maybe the GAA will surprise us with their own channel and content some day. Anything would be better than the nothing we have now.
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