Comment: Dublin’s TV cold war all about control

If the latest row between the Dublin senior football management and RTÉ has confirmed one thing (other than just confirm how much the relationship has soured and how petty it has become), it’s that manager Jim Gavin does indeed watch a lot of inter-county football matches.

He, or his team anyway. Hence the request to RTÉ for recent recordings of matches involving future opposition.

Yet, it’s been common practice for Gavin, upon seeing his team advance to the next stage of the championship, to deny they have looked at their upcoming rivals.

August, 2013: “We haven’t looked at what’s happening in any other province.”

After beating Kerry to set up a final against Mayo in 2016: “We haven’t seen them since February, they haven’t been on our radar at all.”

Prior to their semi-final with Tyrone last year: “I haven’t looked at them since February, if I’m honest.”

Never mind the championship, we now know what we had safely assumed: Dublin’s scouting network, the worst kept secret in Gaelic football, is all-seeing.

Before their Leinster opening win over Carlow last June, Carlow manager Turlough O’Brien mentioned Dublin’s reach.

“I’m sure they were at our National League games; there was two of them at Dr Cullen Park last Sunday. I’m sure [Dublin scout] John Courtney was looking in through Paul Broderick’s window to see what he was eating for his breakfast! They know everything about us.”

Gavin’s comment five years ago about not looking at what was happening in other provinces would amuse Éamonn Fitzmaurice, who claimed that Dublin had representation at the 2013 Cork-Clare Munster semi-final. “Now, that was opposition well down the road for them,” recalled Fitzmaurice. “It shows the level they are at.”

Dublin, though, don’t like telling too much about themselves. News this week of Bernard Brogan’s cruciate injury and the hope he will emulate Michael Darragh Macauley last year and be seen in a Dublin jersey again this season brought us back to Gavin’s response last June when he was asked had Macauley suffered a cruciate injury: “No.” That was despite the midfielder having torn the ligament.

Gavin gave that terse reply immediately following the Carlow game, when the Dublin management team were so wary about the reaction to Diarmuid Connolly’s push on linesman Ciarán Branagan that one of their backroom team approached an RTÉ match-day journalist in the hope not too much would be made of it. By that time, though, Sky Sports, the live broadcasters, had been showing slow-motion repeats of the incident.

On the following night’s The Sunday Game, it was dissected, Connolly was condemned and, when he was handed a retrospective 12-week ban, it was RTÉ who Dublin held responsible. 

The punishment doled out to them was two-fold. As the Irish Examiner reported at the time, Dublin were to make themselves available to RTÉ for walk-up team graphics, but the arrangement was cancelled at short notice. Dublin then chose not to provide one-on-one interviews to RTÉ following their next game against Westmeath.

Gavin later expressed his hope that “lessons have been learned” and normal service resumed for the Leinster final, but the fallout clearly continues to upset Dublin, who have met what they now perceive as a lack of cooperation from RTÉ (releasing tapes of games) with non-cooperation (refusing interviews after the Tyrone and Donegal matches). 

There are puzzling facets to this latest development like, as TV3’s Gavan Reilly asked on Twitter yesterday, why are Dublin approaching RTÉ for DVDs of league games, when they only have rights for the competition’s highlights and were likely not able to facilitate the Dubs’ approach. Also, why has that prompted such a negative response?

Last June didn’t rattle Dublin’s on-field pursuits, but off it, feathers were ruffled. Non-broadcast media also felt their ire, even if it was misguided. Upon reading one newspaper piece condemning Connolly in the days after the Carlow game, a Dublin backroom team member complained that a publication lacked balance, despite it also carrying an article with an opposing view.

As much as they attempted to prove otherwise, Connolly was something Dublin couldn’t contain. Dublin under Gavin have prided themselves on controlling the controllables, such as what emanates from the camp for public consumption, but going back to the way news broke of the violent start to their challenge game against Armagh in 2015, there have been leaks. News of Brogan’s knee injury, for example, was not disseminated as they would have preferred.

How word of this latest bout with RTÉ broke won’t have pleased them either, but then it is hardly surprising last June’s bite continues to sting. 

Before September’s All-Ireland final, there had been rumours RTÉ might not broadcast live from the Dublin hotel in the event they beat Mayo. That conjecture was obviously proven unfounded, but it was symptomatic of just how cool relations were between the parties.

Now, that has been confirmed. It’s not a fight RTÉ wish to continue — they refused to comment yesterday — but for the sake of proving they have done nothing wrong, they might have to.

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