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Why GAA has dilemma over rise of TV

Party time: Trillick celebrate winning the Tyrone title, but the attendance was down on the last time they reached the final
Party time: Trillick celebrate winning the Tyrone title, but the attendance was down on the last time they reached the final
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Like all good stories, my tale of October 10, 2004 began in a bar.

Or rather it didn't, as I stood outside Scruffy Murphy's pub in Sydney trying in vain to gain access. Among our number was one man from Tyrone not known for his tolerance of, well, much. Just when we thought things might get hairy, his phone buzzed with a text message telling him that his beloved Carrickmore had just won another Tyrone Championship.

His demeanour changed and he spent the rest of the evening singing songs in honour of the little rocky outcrop, the parish of Termonmaguirk and the ancestral home of Kurt Cobain.

That wouldn't happen now. For a start, texting in the WhatsApp era is a quaint notion. And our friend from Carrickmore wouldn't have missed out on Carmen's 18th county title as he could have watched it from the comfort of a Sydney sofa.

That was the prospect awaiting many Trillick and Errigal Ciaran people the world over as they huddled over laptops, tablets, phones or cast to widescreen televisions to watch the county final on Tyrone TV last Sunday. That is, until the server simply could not cope with the sheer demand of people logging on and - I think this is the technical term - 'fell down'.

To their credit, Tyrone notified all that paid their £8 that they are due a refund, but got the inevitable scutching on social media. That's not unusual, as Jerome Quinn suffered the same fate and outcome over his coverage of the Antrim county final replay.

In its second year of operation, Tyrone TV has been a huge success. A full double-page spread in the matchday programme made the proud boast that year one streaming was accessed across five continents, in 137 countries and 304 cities and they have secured major sponsorship in Todd's Leap.

Tyrone TV is not doing anything new. This service has been rolled out in other counties, with Armagh TV an early frontrunner, but it's worth fleshing out the detail of their service.

They use Omagh-based company Mac AV to handle the production side, while they endeavour to make it a quality programme with co-commentators of the calibre of Peter Canavan, Enda McGinley, Joe McMahon and Mark Harte, all of whom have significant media experience to go alongside their standing in the game in the county.

The criticism faced at present will pass. Ventures of this kind are always fraught with danger as new technology is explored and it is unfortunate that it happened on the showpiece day.

Others do things slightly differently. Oak Leaf TV shows every game in the Championships, from senior, intermediate and junior levels. They choose not to broadcast live, with the dangers of relying on broadband around mountainous areas an obvious hazard. For a one-off payment of £25, however, it represents incredible value.

There is one obvious pay-off that county boards have to make peace with and that is the harm it does to attendances.

The last time Trillick were in the Tyrone final was 2015 against Killyclogher. A total of 7,915 paid through the gates at Healy Park that day.

On Sunday, they were up against Errigal Ciaran, who enjoy possibly one of the biggest supports in the county, and yet the attendance was 6,095.

If you take the amount of people availing of the live streaming, estimated around the 2,000 mark, that goes some way to making up the shortfall. But it also discounts those watching from all corners of the planet.

All around Tyrone, die-hard supporters who would previously have never dreamt of missing a county final are now deciding to forgo the occasion itself for the comfort of their own home.

It's hard to blame them. You won't get caught in a dirty rain shower on your sofa, and there is no stress of finding a parking space on the Gortin Road or waiting to get out of the car park afterwards.

This is the quandary the GAA now find themselves in. Are they happy for the biggest games within counties experiencing a fall-off in attendance as the technology gets sleeker and more user-friendly? Or can they preserve the appeal of being present in the moment?

'Nothing Beats Being There', to quote one of their marketing slogans.

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