Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Is Sky Sport coverage the better option for the GAA?

By Declan Bogue

It was one of those press-conference questions that reporters lob into the air, hoping for a line. Asked if he would support Dublin manager Jim Gavin's stance on withdrawing one-to-one co-operation with RTÉ among others following their win over Westmeath, there was plenty of meat on the bone for Mickey Harte at Monday's night's pre-Ulster final press launch.

He has had issues himself with RTÉ for their crass and tasteless handling of a personal situation a few years back and since, Harte, along with the Tyrone team, are effectively off limits for RTÉ.

No doubt RTÉ's squad of pundits, having abused Tyrone players and the Tyrone team in general over the last few years, might feel like they are settling scores in print and on air. So it was hardly a surprise that Harte wasn't going to scold Gavin for his actions.

"I am sure that Jim would not need me to support him, he has done quite well on his own to date," Harte began.

"He is entitled to do what he thinks he needs to do in the situation he finds himself in, and I would accept that from him or anybody."

Then, Harte decided to go a little further.

"It is a case of do we get quality analysis or do we get sound bites? That is the big difference. You need to be sure the people analysing our games, some people would call them celebrity analysts, need to be really mindful of the fact that it is not about putting someone else down to raise themselves up.

"It should be about this insightful information we are sharing with people. Is there substance behind what I am saying or does it just sound good when it is retweeted by someone who does not know much about what they read?"

Is there a groundswell of opinion against The Sunday Game? Certainly, over the last fortnight and the in-bickering between pundits, it has begun to feast upon itself with over-indulgence.

Last weekend, former Kerry footballer Paul Galvin, who has found his feet as a columnist this season, stated: "The efforts of the last two weekends prove what I have long believed. The show is a liability to the GAA and now a liability to RTÉ."

He recommends a rebranding exercise, adding: "The current offering is reductive, agenda-led and has been mired in a culture of bias for 10 years."

Galvin's thoughts were put to Harte and he played a delightful backhand by instead complimenting the Sky Sports coverage, in particular Jim McGuinness and Peter Canavan.

"They really tell us something different and they don't tell us what we have all seen after it has happened, they actually suggest things that could be done to improve it," said Harte.

"They analyse the thing in specific detail and they are very good to listen to and it is not about sound bites. There is an alternative there."

While Sky Sports' viewing figures are a disaster, their excellent coverage has spooked the RTÉ pundits. Despite their attempts at playing it cool, they bang the drum about Sky's low figures so much that it reeks of lingering insecurity.

At this point it's fair to ask what The Sunday Game is about anymore? A sports show, or a panto?

Editorially, The Sunday Game have a free reign in how they present the games. Nobody would ever wish to diminish that, but there can be no denying that those tuning into hurling matches feel like they are part of a special occasion, while the footballing punditry fraternity fall into two groups: the smiley heads who can't quite believe they are there - on the telly like! And then a group of middle-aged men who heroically forgo their spare time to tell us that everything is rubbish.

With the passing of time, they feel their roles have evolved not into talking heads that analyse games of Gaelic football, but that of social commentary. A bit of football, and a few things pointed out that teaches you the why as well as the what, doesn't go amiss.

But preaching? We get enough of that on a Sunday morning.

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