Belfast Telegraph

GAA vision for the future

By Declan Bogue

High up in the gangways of the Croke Park press box stood two strangers.

They had designer beards and wore a multitude of necklaces and wristbands. Baggy trousers and funky trainers. Long hair and dark complexions. Among the assembled pasty-faced, checked-shirt wearing journalists from the bogs of Ireland, they were too cool for this school.

Naturally, questions were asked. The only possible explanation could have been that they had been products of the sinking of the Spanish Armada in 1588 on the west coast?

But no. In fact, they were a Brazilian TV crew, here to record a half-hour documentary that will be screened during the 2014 soccer World Cup on the Globo TV network.

The documentary will be one edition of a series examining indigenous games played with balls, with other episodes focussing on Thailand, Germany, Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Brazil.

They had seen some strange sights on their travels but it's tempting to think that a crowd of 82,274 mingling amongst each other - especially given the prevailing terrace culture in Brazil - might have blown their minds a little.

Apparently they wanted to go into the Hill but Croke Park officials felt it unwise. They might have emerged from Fagan's Pub in three weeks' time with a Dubbalin accent and no recollection of anything from the final whistle, yet with a tattoo of Saint Berno of the Navan Road.

With a 35% market share of viewers in a country of 198.7 million people, this broadcast will potentially be the most-watched footage of Gaelic football ever. Think about that.

Elsewhere in the ground were TV crews from Japan, and a French Canadian outfit.

A couple of weeks ago, a piece by a Scottish journalist was receiving heavy rotation on the Twitter accounts of GAA followers after he gave an 'outsiders' match report on the Clare V Cork spectacular. Nothing intrigues people quite as much as what other people think of them.

We can be excruciatingly cringeworthy about this sort of thing. On one hand we genuinely wish for those that have no idea about Gaelic football and hurling to witness them and like them, to the point that we become as smug and content as a stroked cat.

Look! There's Roy Keane with Adrian Chiles in the premium level! And John Inverdale. They love the hurling. Love it! And so on.

Why do we continue to hide our light under a bushel when the world wants to watch Gaelic games?

There are certain fundamental mistakes the GAA makes in relation to roping in the casual fan or tourists. For instance, visit a hotel or a guest house in Dublin and among the flyers and leaflets for literary museums, art galleries or temples of commerce, chances are there will not be anything advertising the wonders of Croke Park.

One of the most symbolic landmarks in Dublin, with history and atmosphere and soul is criminally neglected by a mixture of Bord Fáilte incompetence and a complacency from Croke Park themselves.

Given the positivity that radiates from the Association even in these recessionary times, it is time to think globally in terms of spreading the games and taking matters into our own hands. Next month will witness an Aboriginal team of Australian Rules footballers swing by to play an Ireland select in a game neither Gaelic football nor Aussie Rules. Despite being sold as a vehicle of International development, it has no realistic future.

Worldwide sport has never been more accessible, now that every house seems to have a satellite dish stitched to its' gable. The logical progression is for the GAA to branch out, extend the publicity department and create their own television channel.

Last week, Director General Paraic Duffy, in America, was asked by a reporter to explain what hurling was. He replied that he could explain, but in order to do it justice he might be advised to follow it up with a look on YouTube.

It's only in these moments you realise how effective a dedicated website or broadcast channel with an extensive catalogue of games could be.

At the present time, the broadcast deals will run until the end of next year's National Leagues. Among some major players in the GAA there has been some concern of the tone of coverage that GAA sports are receiving and there could be some hectic negotiating ahead.The prospect of a GAA TV channel is a serious bargaining chip to squeeze out a good deal and insert some level of editorial control.

Developing their own television channel could be the greatest trick the GAA ever pull.

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