Despite Donal Óg Cusack devoting most of the short time that was to be allotted to discussing Dublin’s victory over Wexford to explaining how much better he and the Rock O’Sullivan were than the Wexford defence, I fully concur with his sentiments regarding the placing of GAA championship matches behind a paywall.
Donal Óg is on fire tonight. No stopping that man.
This ‘microwaved’ hurling championship was a personal favourite pic.twitter.com/cNfQQwSaQ2
— Niall McIntyre (@NiallMcintyre) May 7, 2023
The basic complaint is that Saturday evening championship games that were once either available on RTÉ or on (pay per view) Sky Sports have now mostly been moved to GAAGO whose basic rate is €12 per match with various packages available, including a commercial rate that would allow pubs and GAA clubs to show the matches.
There appears to be have been little uptake on that and a certain Dublin club made a valiant and not entirely successful attempt to bypass all of that through the ingenuity of members allegedly versed in the finer points of television technology.
While the GAA has taken the brunt of the criticism over the pay-walling, and rightly so given that it is charged with the well being of the games, many people are seemingly unaware that GAAGO is a joint venture with RTÉ so both can be accused of engaging in a cynical and commercially driven decision to charge people to watch games, such as those in the Munster hurling championship which would be guaranteed viewing figures in the mid-hundreds of thousands if aired on RTÉ.
Fair enough, both organisations need to turn a bob, but there is also the question of RTÉ’s position as a public service broadcaster funded directly and indirectly by the taxpayer; and more to the point the GAA’s duty – and it is a duty – to ensure the health and promotion of the games under its responsibility.
The strong criticism of the current situation among GAA members and supporters has been greatly boosted by the contributions of Donal Óg and Jackie Tyrell as well as by other prominent people within GAA circles including Wexford All-Ireland winner from 1996, Tom Dempsey as well as Age-Action Ireland and even the Tánaiste Micheál Martin.
That forced RTÉ to put out its head of sport Declan McBennett, who along with RTÉ director Dee Forbes is one of the directors of GAAGO, out to be “grilled” by Caitriona Perry on the whole thing. McBennett denied that GAAGO had exclusive rights to show any matches, which may well force both the broadcaster and the GAA to allow normal coverage of crucial Munster hurling championship and other games that were not initially scheduled to be broadcast. Or it may not.
The contribution of Virgin TV to the debate is best ignored in my view given that its content – admittedly from a cursory knowledge of its lowbrow pablum – barely suggests that it is even based in Ireland let alone has any interest in or contribution to make to any aspect of Irish culture.
Which brings me to Teilifís na Gaeilge which has been overlooked perhaps in this controversy.
Micheál Ó Domhnaill, in introducing TG4’s coverage of the Munster under 20 semi final between Tipp and Clare on Monday, made the point that all of the games they show are “saor in aisce,” – free to view in the argot of TV land. He was perhaps being tongue in cheek but he was making a valid point as TG4 provides excellent coverage all the year round of games including comprehensive coverage of club matches, the women’s championships, and underage games – as well as featuring some excellent documentaries on the heroes and history of our games.
Given that the GAA is also supposed to be committed to promoting the language, perhaps it might consider giving TG4 some of the big games during the championship. There are, of course, regular online grumbles about the commentary and punditry on TG4 being as Gaeilge but even someone with “Gaeilge meirgeach” from their school years would find it easy enough to follow the in game commentary, and I know of several people who have been encouraged to brush up on their comprehension and use of Irish through watching matches.
Donal Óg mentioned the dreaded word “culture” in his critique and he was correct to do so. Several people have noted that the GAA (and they are not alone in this) appears to have voluntarily retreated from the centre of Irish life.
What were once the high points of the Irish sporting year – the senior inter county hurling and football championships – have indeed been “microwaved” into a ridiculously telescoped and congested season.
Some will argue that the “split season” places the club more at the centre of the association and that has a certain validity, but GAA clubs in common with many other aspects of Irish life are fallen back on their core communities. Perhaps that is not a bad thing, and as in other eras may lay the ground for a national revival.
It is a complete fallacy, however, and no more than advertising agency bumpf and virtue-signalling to believe that the GAA, or the Irish language, or Irish music or any other core part of our identity is enhanced by the road on which our “elite” – many of whom clearly have little or no interest or connection with any of the above – has set us upon.
Surrendering the air wars is going to do no more than expedite – or microwave – that cultural decay.