The magical mystery tour

If cleaboy boy over on is correct, and the lack of any RTÉ/TV3 logo among the match details on the GAA’s website suggests he is, the revolution against Offaly will not be televised. In what I am assuming is an email from someone in Montrose, they spell it out:

we will NOT be covering the game live.

The GAA decided before the last contract to reduce the number of LIVE games we are permitted to show.

One of the ten games we are now not PERMITTED is Preliminary Hurling Qualifier.
Live coverage on radio and extended highlights on Sunday night.


I once got an email from no less a person than Ryle Nugent when I accused him of focusing on a brawl at a GAA match while ignoring a similar spat at an Ulster rugby match. His response was far more polite than I deserved, so credit to RTÉ for being responsive on this level, and it’s important to emphasis that RTÉ have nothing to do with the match not being televised. The GAA have decided live coverage is likely to reduce attendances, so unless something spectacular happens in the next week, I’ll be following the game on the radio.

Ugh. I hate following games on the radio.

Is this a good idea? I think we can all agree that bigger crowds at matches would be a good thing. But will taking away live television lead to a boost in numbers at the game? The problem is that there are so many variables. Crowds are down for all manner of reasons:

  • the back door reducing too many games to a phony war
  • Kilkenny’s dominance is sucking away people’s interest
  • prices are too high during a recession
  • poor venue choices are making it harder than it need be to get to games

If we wanted to find out what the main problem is, we’d change one of these variables and hold the others steady. Like we’d ever be that rational about change in the GAA. Even if we could do it in each case – making Henry Shefflin play with skates rather than boots, perhaps? – the temptation to tinker with everything is immense, and I don’t exclude myself from the ranks of the, uh, tinkers.

With respect to this latest attempt to meddle with what we’re not sure whether it’s working or not, the GAA have gotten it arse-over-tit, as Julia Gillard’s opponents might put it. Offaly are a good example of the folly of the current dispensation. Their supporters could anticipate seeing them get walloped by the Cats in stunning HD, and even if they had pulled off the shock to beat all shocks their satisfaction at having seen it or being able to luxuriate in watching it back would have been tempered by the knowledge that they hadn’t finished the job. Now we have a match where they have a real prospect of success, one that would allow them to puff their chest out (I like to think we’re a bit of a scalp) and look forward to a long summer, and it’s not on the telly. It gets worse in football, where some novel and exciting clashes in the qualifiers will be ignored while turkey shoots in the provincial championships like the recent game between Kerry and Tipperary are churned out year after year. You can retain the provincial championships without pretending that they’re still the jewel in the crown.

So I think the GAA have got their priorities wrong. Still, you have to marvel at the assumption that live coverage of every match is the divine right of every Gael. I can remember a time when we had two hurling matches a year on the telly. But we were happy! Actually no, we weren’t, it was mental that the only team we could ever be sure of seeing was Galway. But the sky didn’t fall in and the game did not wither on the vine for the lack of exposure. We like to tell ourselves that the worst hurling match is better than the best match from any other sport, and to the committed that is mostly true. But there have been plenty of matches shown over the years that were a dreadful advert for the game and one of the best of recent times, the Waterford-Limerick match in 2003, had its status enhanced by not being endlessly pored over by the Loughnanes of this world. Walter Bagehot wrote of the British monarchy that “we must not let in daylight upon magic”. Establishing a principle that the default way to watch hurling is by being at the game rather than on your couch might be a good place from which to start restoring some of the mystique.