Do you remember the episode of Father Ted where the lovable rogue, Crilly, and dim-witted Dougal – upon hearing of the imminent arrival of Bishop Brennan – hurriedly become ensconced in the Bible? Only for Len to instantly snarl about them “Pretending to talk about religion”. It all came to mind recently when assessing the formative stages of Sky’s GAA coverage.
Now read on…
I would have held no definitive view as to the merits – or lack thereof as detractors would see it – of the sporting arm of Rupert Murdoch’s empire entering uncharted waters, for them, in the Irish market. Both sides of what was – and probably forever will be – a passionately entrenched debate could be readily reconciled with. A wide berth was gladly given to the whole furore.
That said, curiosity, both as a fan and on a professional level, was always going to ensure a degree of intrigue regarding how the new players in the market dispensed their product. Snazzy presentation, the latest technological apparatuses and a tsunami of statistics were always likely to be a given.
Disappointingly, though, whilst acknowledging that the somewhat surprisingly chosen anchor pairing of Rachel Wyse and Brian Carney have adapted well to what must be a challenging environment for them, they clearly weren’t given a grounding in how to explain the finer points of hurling and Gaelic football to their overseas audience. Or if they were, they have regrettably flouted utilisation of same.
A tale that has entered local folklore in these parts warrants retelling. Many moons ago, a local character who – to me at least – would’ve been more recognisable in soccer circles togged out in a GAA match. Only to guarantee himself legendary status locally for an eternity by bringing the ball for a corner kick instead of a ‘45’ at one stage in the match!
Now, the authenticity or otherwise of reports declaring vast numbers of viewers outside of Ireland having injured themselves in their attempts to play hurling following Sky’s maiden broadcast (Kilkenny v. Offaly, hardly the liveliest affair for them to begin with) cannot be corroborated. However, positive reactions transmitted across social media sites appeared to be entirely genuine.
Mario Rosenstock is famed for the closeness to reality of his mimicry in Gift Grub. Even he surely won’t have envisaged how close he came to the bone with the sketch of Paul Merson being in a flux over the administration of a black card. A sizable swathe of hardened GAA devotees – spanning players, mentors, pundits and even match officials are similarly flummoxed by the dictum.
So what hope has somebody trying to acquaint themselves with and adjust to GAA for the first time? It is at this juncture that one is tempted to quip that the new broadcasters have been pretending to deliver quality coverage. Lacklustre banality was an unedifying component of the location whence the Sky commentary teams were transplanted from. Sadly, for the undoubted marketing power of the Murdoch machine and their ability to glamorise anything from international team sports events to pike fishing, their GAA coverage lacks what should be a few basic defining elements.
Why, for example, among all the highbrow analysis and statistics – welcome as they are – could a few moments not be taken to explain, say, why a ‘45’ or ‘65’ is being awarded or the rule relating to steps permitted or – if they know it themselves – why a black (or yellow or red) card is being brandished.
Simple things such as those outlined would be of incalculable aid to newcomers to our sports in terms of acclimatisation. After all, how do any of us become au fait with things such as basketball or American football – as well as watching them, by picking up on what the commentators are saying. Unfortunately, thus far, the Sky team appear forgetful of the fact that the majority of the audience they are supposedly projecting towards have never seen what’s on show before.
Naysayers have predictably pounced on the paltry viewing figures being attributed to the new regime so far. Sky undoubtedly haven’t helped themselves, by – so far at least – failing to address the basic shortcomings outlined above. However, Rome or any other city for that matter wasn’t built in a day.
Providing the service providers brush up a bit – in terms of marketing, incentivised packages for customers and basic explanations – in time they’d be expected to win over the doubters. Holding on to current viewers and thereby attracting new ones undoubtedly presents the biggest challenge in the initial stages.
Some form of incentive – perhaps make GAA matches free to air for those who already have other Sky packages – would go some way to appease those whose objections at being basically frozen out of the picture, while understandable are equally easily rectifiable.
Gut feeling is that – as with many things in the GAA – what’s contentious will eventually be accepted as normal. Then the wonder will be what all the fuss was about.