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Comment: Lack of TV coverage for GAA is shambolic but there is a silver lining

By Declan Bogue

There was a sense when the story broke in the Belfast Telegraph a few weeks ago that BBC NI were unable to cover six of the eight Ulster Championship games on live TV, maybe little enough was lost.

What we mean by that is that, for a time, the Championship itself had become a little formulaic and results were almost utterly predictable.

But then a modern-day classic between Tyrone and Monaghan unfolded last weekend and the decision made by both RTÉ and Sky to frontload the majority of their matches for broadcast on the revamped, and admittedly highly attractive, Munster and Leinster hurling Championships, along with the new All-Ireland quarter-finals structure in football, appeared if not churlish, then certainly puzzling.

It bears recapping the current arrangement in place. Up to now, BBC NI have paid a certain amount of money to screen the Ulster Championship, then they do the camera work and send it to RTÉ to present the games.

However, given the changing structures of the inter-county Championships in both hurling and football, it became apparent that early round games, such as Fermanagh and Armagh, might not be as tempting as, say, Dublin against Tyrone in a Super 8s game in Omagh in July.

Again, understandable.

But in light of these developments, RTÉ cannot increase their number of games, and so because they have chosen to feature only the second semi-final and the final of the Ulster Championship, it has left BBC NI in a limbo of iPlayer and deferred coverage broadcasts.

Which is okay and all, but it's not the right thing. Like taking a bath with your socks on.

It's hardly fulfilling the remit of public service broadcasting either when the station studiously ignores GAA coverage for the rest of the year. Especially given the figure cited by the Ulster Council of the GAA that there are 250,000 GAA members in Ulster.

There was a fair bit of incompetence in all of this, from decision-makers in the broadcasters not being aware of the competition structure changes, to a lack of lobbying for RTÉ restrictions on BBC broadcasts to be relaxed.

But 2011 was the last time Tyrone played Monaghan in Healy Park, at the same stage of the Championship. It was a repeat of the previous year's Ulster final, and it drew a crowd of 10,937.

This year, given the way the draw worked out, this game was being labelled everywhere as the de facto Ulster final of 2018. And 15,029 turned up and paid in, making for a far better atmosphere and - who knows - possibly inspiring the players to greater heights.

I'd take more people going to the games than couch potatoes expecting to see everything. Wouldn't you?

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