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No regrets from RTE chief McBennett over axing of controversial pundit Brolly


Outspoken: Joe Brolly in his former RTE pundit’s role

Outspoken: Joe Brolly in his former RTE pundit’s role

Outspoken: Joe Brolly in his former RTE pundit’s role

RTE'S Head of Sport Declan McBennett has revisited the controversial sacking of pundit Joe Brolly after the drawn All-Ireland football final last summer.

In a wide-ranging interview with Vincent Hogan in The Irish Independent today, McBennett refers specifically to the manner in which Brolly was usurped from his position between the drawn final and the replay, claiming he had to make the right call and was not concerned about "the optics".

It comes with former Derry All-Ireland winner and well-known barrister Brolly linked with a lead panel role in enhanced GAA coverage by BBC NI this autumn.

The interview reads:

Vincent Hogan: Do you have any regrets about the way the Joe Brolly decision played out?

Declan McBennett: None!

VH: But was that timing necessary? Why would you make that call just before the (drawn) All-Ireland final, thus allowing it to become this massive story in the middle of what many consider Ireland's biggest sports event? Could you not just have let it play out through the winter and end his contract that way?

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DMcB: Aaaah... yes. But the decision was made and I was happy to stand over the decision and I believe it was the right decision. I've explained previously the rationale behind that. There are three reasons why you get a seat. Credibility, informed opinion and the ability to articulate that opinion.

If you're a pundit and a contract gets cancelled, you have to ask yourself why. And I think if you examine those elements already mentioned, it probably answers that question for everybody.

VH: But that's not what I'm asking you. I'm asking about the timing and the optics of what seemed almost needlessly brutal.

DMcB: Em, okay, the optics didn't concern me. Because I'm not about the optics. To my mind, it was about putting the best people on the replay. We brought in Stephen Rochford.

VH: Why?

DMcB: Because Stephen had walked the line and actually gone to war in a way with Dublin. So he had a great understanding of what it would take to beat them.

VH: But the decision was, presumably, going to be made anyway?

DMcB: I stand over the decision and the timing of the decision.

McBennett added that should Roy Keane become available for punditry they would certainly consider him, but made a distinction between what Keane offers and the format familiar to RTE.

He said: "Part of RTE's remit, whether we like it or not, is to put the most credible people there. Credibility is a huge element of what we do. We had an era in Ireland whereby personality-driven punditry dominated. And, for an era, that was not only warmly received, it was encouraged, it was embraced.

"And in some cases it was brilliant. I think it overstepped the line on numerous occasions, but it was entertainment. I think it had its day. I think people are looking for so much more now.

"Look at the evolution of Gaelic football. My view is that Armagh and Tyrone changed the game between '02 and '05. I think Tyrone then took it to another level. Donegal then took it to another level again. And now Dublin, another level again.

"I don't think you can just cover it the same way you've always done. People want to learn more. It's simply not good enough to come out with the same scenario… the old days were good, this is awful. One of the things the archives show us is it wasn't all great back in, say, the 1970s and '80s.

"I think we need to keep in time with an evolving game and I'm not sure everybody was doing that."

Asked about the impact of Covid-19 from a planning perspective today compared to six months ago, McBennett said: "We were looking at 2020 as being a glorious year with three stand-out events (Olympics, Euros and GAA Championship) among everything else. So there was a rush to the archives by every station that had hundreds of hours devoted to sport this summer.

"But you cannot replicate the live event. Sport is about the drama. And if you know how that drama unfolds, if you know that Katie Taylor wins or that Dublin beat Kerry in the end, the drama is gone. So you're not as engaged. Bizarrely, the two major international events (Olympics and Euros) are the easiest to plan for. You just push the plan forward into 2021. It means a re-allocation of budget and a disruption to people, but the more difficult ones to work were domestic.

"It's the stuff that is still in play that's the much greater challenge. The Championship is now coming slap-bang in the middle of the rugby season. So if you take, say, November 21... you have the hurling quarter-finals, the Leinster football final, the Munster football final, the Ulster football final, the rugby and the FAI Cup semi-finals.

"That's just one weekend in November."

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