Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: McGeeney right to slam critics

Consider Kieran McGeeney for a minute. He isn’t given to communicating with the GAA public through the media too often, but when he does, he contributes something of weight and worth.

On the radio last Saturday, he hit on a riff about the paucity of quality analysis of Gaelic games. It went to the heart of a matter that has frustrated followers for some time now.

“I think analysis of our games is poor, at best,” he said. “Nobody wants to look at why things happen, how things are moving on or progressed and why people use different tactics. All those sort of things which I believe are the interesting parts of the game — they just want to give out.

“Maybe that’s what sells, maybe that’s why Eastenders is the most popular TV programme, because people like to be depressed.

“Statistically we don’t know what happens in a game or why it happens, and how it leads to success. We try to pontificate based on very little knowledge and anecdotally.”

The same question was put to Tyrone boss Mickey Harte at the launch of the league finals at Croke Park, and as ever, he was illuminating.

“There’s far too much negativity and people harking back to past days, suggesting that they were the only days that ever existed, that football was at its top level. Now we are at the next level of where the game has gone.

“Let’s talk up what’s good about our games. People are not positional in how they play the game — they are actually total footballers. A corner back is now comfortable taking a score, a corner forward is comfortable putting in a last-ditch block. Why should numbers mean anything? Let’s be creative in the extreme to add as many skills as we can to our repertoire.”

It’s a fair bet to say that a good bit of this criticism is aimed at the RTE three-headed beast of O’Rourke, Brolly and Spillane.

And McGeeney and Harte are right in what they say. In their own ways, all of them have pigeon-holed themselves into a cartoonish image of their own beliefs. You know the script before they open their mouths.

In America they can’t get enough of statistical analysis, and have programmes such as ESPN’s ‘The Sports Reporters’, where three respected journalists will discuss the week’s sporting concerns. To survive in that format requires an agile thought process, plenty of hard evidence and a little humility to accept what others say.

It’s a million miles away from Pat Spillane coining crude phrases such as ‘puke football’ to repeat ad nauseam. That kind of errant schoolboy schtick, however, has sustained his punditry career for the last decade.

We say all this, but then we must recognise the reality of television.

It is not an arm of the GAA. It is entertainment, plain and simple. Soundbite is king and there isn’t the time nor have they identified the expertise to get drawn into a discussion about the nuts and bolts of the game.

On any summer Sunday, an inter-county Championship game will be screened. Those that care about it are in the ground. Those not present but with a direct involvement in the GAA are most likely at a club game.

What is left over is a broad base of consumers, deliberating over watching the Gah or the Antiques Roadshow.

Give them a choice between a nerd-off between GAA writers throwing facts and figures at each other or watching Joe Brolly slouching on a sofa gesticulating wildly while he reveals the third secret of the blanket defence to the obvious discomfort of Spillane. It’s not hard to see which they might prefer.

Perhaps television delivers the kind of analysis viewers deserve, and no more.

Belfast Telegraph

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