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BBC suffer a setback to coverage of Ulster series

 

By Declan Bogue

Ulster GAA fans are set for a shock - there will be much-reduced coverage of the upcoming provincial football Championship on BBC Northern Ireland.

After years of broadcasting almost every game in the Ulster Championship - usually seven of the eight rounds - it appears that the BBC will only be able to broadcast the first semi-final, played between the winners of the Fermanagh-Armagh and Tyrone-Monaghan ties, and the final.

This turn of events means that this year could see the least number of Ulster GAA games screened live since 1990.

This comes in the second year of a five-year deal with the BBC, delivered in December 2016, which now appears dead in the water after the restructuring of the All-Ireland Football Championship.

The reason for that is a complex arrangement they have with RTÉ, who have yet to publicly announce which games they will be covering over the summer -even though the Championship is due to officially start in under a fortnight's time.

The BBC provide the live feed for games that RTÉ are broadcasting in the Ulster Championship.

However, it is believed that RTÉ have little appetite to show the preliminary round, quarter-finals and the second semi-final of the Ulster Championship.

Ulster Council spokesman Michael Geoghegan stated: "There are negotiations going on between BBC and RTÉ as to what they are actually going to show. I know RTÉ are only going to be showing two games in Ulster.

"It's really a matter between them as to what they are going to show and it is still ongoing."

That echoed a comment from the BBC Press Office, which stated: "Discussions about our GAA coverage are ongoing with relevant stakeholders.

"We remain committed to maximising the range, impact and volume of BBC programming in this area and understand its importance to local audiences.

"Sports rights are highly competitive and much of what we are able to do depends on partnership agreements with other broadcasters.

"Details of our plans for Championship coverage on the BBC's radio, television, online and digital platforms will be announced shortly."

This follows the news in early March that the BBC failed to secure broadcast rights for rugby's Guinness PRO14, leaving BBC NI with a fraction of the live sport that they have covered in the past.

The preliminary round of the Ulster series is between Donegal and Cavan on May 13, and it has been confirmed that RTÉ will focus on the Galway v Mayo Connacht Football Championship tie with the same throw-in time of 4pm.

However, the first Ulster quarter final is on May 19 between Fermanagh and Armagh - the same day as a pair of nondescript Munster football ties between Clare and Limerick and Tipperary and Waterford, while no prominent hurling fixtures are hosted that day.

It is believed that the BBC are attempting to convince RTÉ to potentially show some of these games as deferred coverage, or even be able to host them on the BBC iPlayer.

As things stand, Down v Antrim, the winners of Donegal/Cavan v Derry and the mouth-watering tie between Tyrone and Monaghan will not be shown live on BBC, which will cause consternation among GAA fans in Northern Ireland, who pay their licence fee.

The other unknown, however, is whether Sky TV will cover these games but, like RTÉ, they have yet to formally announce their schedule of games.

They have the rights to 14 exclusive matches - as well as the All-Ireland final and both semi-finals - but they are known to be keen to focus heavily on the All-Ireland quarter-final group stages.

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