Thursday, April 09, 2009

What Will Des Cahill's Sunday Game Be Like?

Yesterday evening’s announcement of Des Cahill as the new presenter of the Sunday Game is something of a disappointment. It’s not as shattering a disappointment as watching your Bank of Ireland shares go down the Swanee River, but there is a certain weight on the heart.

It’s hard not to worry that the evening Sunday Game, the single most important TV program to the GAA fan, will end up being the Road to Croker II, a lot of soft old blather. Dara Ó Cinnéide or Setanta's Daire O'Brien would have been An Spailpín’s choice as Sunday Game presenter, but Cahill is popular in RTÉ, and popular counts.

There is an understanding abroad that Des Cahill is a GAA man, especially after his rescuing of the Late Late Show GAA special. An Spailpín couldn’t really say as I didn’t see the show, and would maintain that anyone who sat down to watch that show in the first place was naïve in the extreme, as it could only ever have been terrible.

Marty Whelan won Celebrity Bainisteoir I believe – should Marty host the Sunday Game? Celebrity Bainisteoir and the Late Late Show are mass appeal entertainment programs. They have nothing to do with sports journalism, which is where discussion of the Sunday Game should begin and end.

It would take a level of imagination that is not common in the Irish media to even attempt the change of perspective a real GAA show would require rather than the lazy platitudes we usually get. Gaelic games are not like other sports. It needs to be discussed in a different language.

There seems to be an opinion abroad that Cahill will “ask the hard questions.” People don’t always think through what they mean by that. The GAA is an amateur organisation with amateur players, who all have to go back to work on Monday. Trial by media and slow-motion replays do not suit the games or the Irish psyche.

Last year’s Galvin affair, which you would think cut and dried, was anything but. This is the problem the Sunday Game will always face. Is the appointment of Des Cahill an attempt to address that, or is it just RTÉ wheeling out their Doctor Doolittle?

Has GAA journalism has existed for over a hundred years without ever evolving its own voice? Not at all. Mick Dunne and Jim Carney were GAA men to the fingertips, but their particular style is seen as terribly passé in Donnybrook right now. Whereas Des is such a teddy bear, and even though he’s true blue Dubbalin man he worked in the country, you know. As far the Donnybrook panjandrums are concerned, Cahill is like the old lady in Airplane: “oh stewardess – I speak jive.”

Des Cahill can speak to the country bumpkins, and that gives him kudos in Donnybrook for this post. What also gives him kudos is that he has the gift of serving two masters – while his public persona is that of the man on the street, anyone paying attention to the way he chaired Sportscall will have noted that Des always took the side of authority. Telling Des about overcrowding in Tuam or Thurles was always likely to hear a recitation of the party line.

Presenting the Sunday Game will not be an easy job. Des Cahill has an extreme disadvantage in that his most obvious point of comparison is the RTÉ soccer panel, who are tremendous. But is not a fair comparison – soccer as commentated on Johnny Giles is a professional game played by millionaires. GAA men drive forklifts for Beamish and Crawford and farm fields of rushes. You cannot speak about GAA players who are playing for love in the same language you use to speak about divers, cheats, cowards and spivs who are pulling down hundreds of thousands of pounds per week.

There’s no law that says you have to hammer someone to be a legitimate journalist. And this is especially the case when you’re commentating on amateur players playing an amateur game.

Des Cahill will have to decide whom he would like to serve as presenter of the Sunday Game. Shall he serve the establishment, RTÉ, the players, his own comfort zone, or any combination of the above?

The evening Sunday Game is more important that the live afternoon show because GAA people are at matches during the live show. But they need – need – the half-nine show for analysis of their own game and the national state of things. And your deeply concerned correspondent often wonders if RTÉ actually understands this.

The single most important Sunday Game of the year is the one of the night of the All-Ireland finals. RTÉ seem utterly oblivious to this fact, and are ruining it currently by featuring reviews of the year, teams of the year, live links from the winning teams’ hotels and a lot of people pig drunk in different boozers in the winning counties. Who cares? This is Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh stuff – it has nothing to do with sport.

Win or lose, the essential thing for the GAA fan coming back from the All-Ireland is to see the Sunday Game, meaning game footage and analysis. It’s essential. To see just how essential we can now take a trip through time and space, to the great town of Ballivor, Co Meath, on the night of the 28th of September, 1997.

If we visit one of the pubs therein, we will behold some sorrowful Mayomen in the green and red finery watching the Muiris Mac Gearailt All-Ireland on the Sunday Game to the amusement and pity of the locals. That was a long night twelve years ago, but to drive on and miss the Sunday Game would have been like ordering a pint and not finishing it. It. Just. Isn't. Done.

An Spailpín wishes Des Cahill all the best in his new role. His is a great responsibility and we need him to do well. Go n-éirí leis.

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