RTÉ’s Byrnes gears up for another long, hot summer of action

My late father was a huge sports fan. I’d have loved to play for Galway, but it wasn’t to be. Still, what I do is a huge privilege

THE MAN whose name comes up last on The Sunday Game credits frowns when you ask how busy it gets.

Galway native Paul Byrnes produces RTÉ’s flagship GAA programme, which means a summer juggling camera crews, reporters and broadcast units.

“The first weekend’s busy, obviously, the All-Ireland finals the same, but there can be a couple of very big weekends during the year,” says Byrnes.

“In the summer you’ll have a weekend with maybe eight football qualifiers and three hurling qualifiers on top of the regular provincial games. At one stage last summer we had highlights of 16 games one Sunday evening.

“Those games all need crews, OBs, reporters, technicians — there can be 60, 70, 80 people involved all told. All hands on deck.”

The back door has increased the workload for Byrnes and company exponentially.

“People are intrigued by the qualifiers because that’s when the serious stuff begins in earnest — that’s the knock-out stage, so we’ve got to try to capture that.

“And that’s why we get out and cover every single qualifier, because the day you don’t is the day they catch you — the minnows beat the All-Ireland champions, or whatever.”

Still, not all games are created equal. Some matches, knock-out qualifiers or not, just don’t come alive, and that helps with the running order.

“With the live show you know what’s on, obviously,” says Byrnes. “Connacht football final at 2, Munster hurling final at 4, or whatever the situation is. For the night show it’s different — we’ll have a draft running order during the week, but that’s just a first draft which can change at any time.

“We have an editorial meeting at 6pm on the Sunday — that never changes — with the editor, the panellists and so on, and we discuss every aspect of the show from the opening credits on. We decide what games we’re going to show, the order, the talking points and so on.

“Generally, if we show two live games during the day we’ll probably show a different one to start the night show to give the audience something different, something fresh. They’ve watched two live games in the afternoon so we give them something they haven’t shown. After that the quality of the game will dictate matters.

“And things happen, events dictate the order. The best example would be July 10 last year: the day of the World Cup final, the Munster hurling final, the Leinster football final. We’d planned to start with the Munster hurling final, but given what happened with Louth and Meath in the Leinster final, the show we planned at 6pm that day was very different to what we had planned at noon that day. We tore up the running order to deal with that controversy, and the first 40 minutes of the show was like Prime Time, dealing with it. All the other games were squeezed a bit as a result, that was the editorial decision on the night.”

The complaint has been made that the high number of matches means focusing on controversies rather than the play, with the accompanying accusation that the show dictates the GAA’s disciplinary agenda.

“There’s a balance between highlights and analysis. At our meeting with panellists and editors we’d discuss the key talking points, the controversies and so on. The panellists are a huge part of driving the discussions. They’re the experts, after all, and we want their opinions. The key for us is to be balanced and fair, but we also have a job to do, to cover the incidents and controversies in a fair and balanced way. That’s our responsibility.

“At the meetings we discuss how we’ll deal with Louth-Meath, with Semplegate, with Paul Galvin — in a fair and balanced way. That’s our job.

“For me, waking up on Monday morning to buy the papers, I’m happy if I see something in the papers we dealt with; if there’s something in the papers we’ve missed I’m not happy.”

Byrnes’ interest in sport — “borderline obsessive” is his description — is inherited.

“My late father was a huge sports fan, and I suppose it came down to me. I’d be GAA first and foremost, even if I didn’t have a great career. I’d have loved to play for Galway, but it wasn’t to be. Still, what I do is a huge privilege.”

So is maintaining the standards of his show.

“It’s a huge responsibility, and RTÉ have placed that trust in us. It’s a massive team effort.

“The Sunday Game goes back to 1979 and we have to maintain its credibility, to maintain the editorial standards and the quality. We can’t be complacent about that, and we’re always looking to what the public want.”


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