Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Same old drivel from Spillane and friends

At the fag-end of his first contribution to the 2012 Championship season last Sunday, Pat Spillane got down to business. His main hope for the tournament ahead, he said, was that managers would throw off the shackles and play like Crossmaglen Rangers. Instantly, he killed the optimism in us all.

We keep coming back to this show every May expecting something entertaining but end up frustrated, annoyed and disgusted with the cosiness and staleness of it all. Unfortunately, The Sunday Games’ overall tenor is destroyed by RTE’s obsession with ‘personality’.

There are few people in the country less suited to television than Pat Spillane. With his eight Celtic Crosses and nine All-Stars, his place as one of the greatest players is assured and beyond debate. But it has absolutely no relevance to his ability to talk about the game or enlighten the viewers.

The same goes for playing and coaching. There are two entirely different skillsets to these roles. True, a former great can command an instant respect from his side, but that only takes you so far. To give an example, look at the difficult time Jack O’Shea had as Mayo manager, ending with defeat to Leitrim in the Connacht final in 1994.

To make a comparison for punditry in terms we are all comfortable with, we can look at how Alan Shearer — a great soccer player — survives on the Match of the Day sofa without contributing anything meaningful, while Gary Neville — a conscientious pro but hardly inspired — has become the golden boy of Sky Sports with his perceptive and insightful output.

Neville understands that fans want a little snippet from a dressing room and a glimpse of a footballer’s mindset. Furthermore, he is hungry for the gig, having just recently retired.

Taken within those criteria, it is clear that Spillane is actually a major problem for RTE’s coverage of Gaelic Games.

He’s not the only problem. For example, the presentation of the programme needlessly drags. On the Sunday Game Live, we had a pre-recorded feature with Jacqui Hurley walking around a damp Temple Bar explaining who was playing who in the race for Sam. Then it was back to the studio where sidepanels on the screen displayed the draw and Spillane talked us through who was playing who. Once that was taken care of, Joanne Cantwell appeared at Dr Hyde Park in Roscommon and immediately went into a spiel about who was playing who that day. Too much repetition loses channel-surfers.

To give you a flavour of the debate, we went back to the studio when the show’s anchor Michael Lyster asked Spillane who he fancied in the Connacht clash. Spillane replied, “For two years, Tomás[pause] Joe Kernan and [at this point, Colm O’Rourke had to help Spillane out by telling him the name of the last Galway manager, Tomás ÓFlatharta] they tried to reinvent the wheel with Galway football and make them a defensive Now they’re playing a traditional Galway football and I think I like Galway.”

By God.

Then, Darragh Maloney had an on-pitch interview with An Uachtaráin Liam O’Neill, before the Longford-Laois game. Given O’Neill’s recent comments that certain elements of football can be ‘boring’, surely Maloney should have asked him about that, even for the purposes of clarification? Instead, we got the feather-duster treatment. The question remained unasked.

A key problem here is the length of the show and how the programme editor chooses to divide it. It is a marathon, not a sprint so it lends itself to a series of soap-opera plots with the potential to run and run, without a cliffhanger or a resolution ever in sight.

We have the ‘Team of Decade’ saga. Three years ago, Spillane used the occasion of Tyrone’s semi-final loss to Cork to say to Joe Brolly: “Might I say, this puts to bed the argument about the team of the decade... Kerry are the team of the decade.” Brolly’s response then: “Is this the level you must descend to Pat?” Every once in a while, they’ll exhume that old argument and play it out.

Like all marathons, it’s exhausting to endure.

Another one is the ‘putting the foot, into football’ movement that Spillane has established, and been President of, ever since those pesky nordies started winning. The latest instalment of that comment came at half-time of the Connacht Championship match, the first of many this summer.

It’s not just Spillane though.

The evening programme started bad by lifting a strange bit of prose — about the attractions of the Championship, the things we ache for during the long winter — from the daytime show. One of the lines was about, ‘Des, and the lads on the telly’, which gives you some insight into the level of regard they have for themselves.

It went from that to include a weird parallel universe featuring Dan Shanahan and the Waterford footballers, which helped nobody, except perhaps Dan’s media profile.

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

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