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Comment: Who can fill the void left by the departure of RTE legend Michael Lyster

By Declan Bogue

The manner in which Michael Lyster has accepted his time as the face of RTÉ's Gaelic Games coverage is set to come to an end was revealed in his radio interview over the weekend on the Ray D'arcy radio show.

When D'arcy asked, "Do you want to go?", Lyster replied, "I can't say that I want to go but then I can't say that I don't either. Look, I've had a big run at this - this year will be my 35th year presenting The Sunday Game and that's not a bad innings. On a second note to that, next year I'll be 40 years in RTÉ so I think you deserve the t-shirt at that stage."

If Lyster himself is melancholy for the passing of time, then the same can be said of his audience who have grown up and grown old with the familiar summer Sunday ritual of a match, a journey home and settling down on the sofa to watch the day's coverage. The presence of the Galway man was always comforting and reassuring, like getting into a well-worn, chunky cardigan as the kettle boils.

His appeal went across the world. Housewives' favourite and gas man all rolled into one.

Two little anecdotes, if I may. His sociability on All-Stars trips was summed up by the way he would hold court in exotic locations. On the trip to Boston in 2014, I happened to walk past him entertaining a group of ex-pats and caught a snippet of his conversation: "You see, the thing about Brolly is…" and thought to myself, how many times has he had that conversation?

In Dubai in 2016, while out watching an Ireland rugby match, Middle East county board man Mark Diffley was sitting with myself and a friend from home when he announced: "Right, I'm off to make friends with Michael Lyster over there."

His other interests were wide and varied. He started writing a music column as a cub reporter for the Tuam Herald and organised annual awards nights. He competed in many car rallies as a co-pilot to Vincent Hogan of the Irish Independent in the Circuit of Ireland and the Lakes of Killarney. Lyster as a petrol head wouldn't be an image familiar to many.

The reaction online has been overwhelmingly fond.

"Legend. Patience of a saint."

"He is inseparable from my earliest memories of AI finals."

And so on.

Most of all, he displayed a neutrality that is becoming increasingly rare in the media, with hysteria getting ever more fashionable.

To the casual observer, many would be unaware he hailed from Galway, such was his impartiality in hosting and refereeing discussions.

His departure is hastened by the fact he suffered a massive heart attack in 2015 and was lucky enough to tell the tale.

The Sunday Game soldiered on without him for a time but he didn't make his hiatus a long one.

However, his leaving now represents a serious opportunity for The Sunday Game in the modern age.

RTÉ figures will be aware that criticism of the format centres round the cosiness of it all, with some pundits appearing to hold arrangements similar to civil service contracts.

Over on Sky, a new breed of pundits have shown another way to present the games. Some of that has crept into the RTÉ mindset, with Ciaran Whelan expertly displaying graphics on last Sunday's League Sunday programme on the running lines of the Dublin and Kildare forwards.

On Eir, praise for retired Kilkenny hurler Tommy Walsh is widespread. His enthusiasm for the games takes people along with him, while the veteran RTÉ pundits have become somewhat stale, fixated with their own agendas.

The keenest illustration of this comes in the annual All-Ireland final review when RTÉ invite all their pundits onto an enormous sofa to share their thoughts. Lyster occasionally struggled to keep control of affairs as they all shouted over the top of one another. The patience of a saint, indeed.

He leaves a big seat to fill. Any bookies odds for the role would tightly price Darragh Maloney and Joanne Cantwell.

Both are no-nonsense and keen to put their own stamp on things. Perhaps they would favour a strong chairing of the programme.

For as long as any of us have been watching Gaelic Games, The Sunday Game has been an institution but in recent times it has become a little too full of itself, concerned with becoming the story rather than conveying the story.

To that end, the standout candidate for the role, in the view of this little corner of the planet, is Joe Molloy, one of the Off The Ball hosts on radio station Newstalk.

In a recent interview with Paraic Duffy, he displayed an appreciation of the finer points of GAA politics while interviewees have remarked that he doesn't let you come up for air when he makes his way to the very centre of an issue.

Yeah, he may be too fresh-faced for some, but he would shake the whole thing up for sure.

The next developments and editorial direction will be watched with keen interest.

Belfast Telegraph

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