Monday, May 23, 2011

Well Done The Sunday Game, the Most Important Program in Ireland

Des Cahill’s Sunday Game goes from strength to strength. Cahill’s tenure in the most important job in Irish television got off to a wonderful start last year when his effortlessly amiable manner put GAA men at ease, as opposed to the Defcon 1 necessary for a chat with Cahill’s immediate predecessor, Pat Spillane.

The standard of analysis on The Sunday Game is so much better than it was too. Rather than ape what’s emerging as the RTÉ Sport house style of forming panels along the Contrarian/Someone with a clue model, Cahill allows his panelists to share what they know from lifetimes in the game. Not all the panelists are great of course, but still. It’s a start.

Last night Cahill rose to another challenge, and he deserves credit for it. Sligo v Leitrim was never likely to be a feature game when Kerry, Cork and Kildare are all playing. The fact that people expect their TV sports presented in a certain way makes it hard on Irish broadcasters too, because the GAA, to its glory, is not a professional sport.

It exists in a different sort of reality and the Irish media hasn’t really come to grips with finding the correct voice for that, a voice that finds the balance between the journalist’s duty to report facts, and common decency’s duty not to hammer a guy who did his best and has to go to work in the morning. It’s very hard to strike a balance between the marquee needs of television and the pride of village needs of the ordinary GAA person.

But last night The Sunday Game came up trumps. They can’t have been expecting the story of the day to happen in Markiewicz Park on Sunday morning but it did and The Sunday Game were able to change their schedules to accommodate it.

Again, it doesn’t seem like much, featuring Leitrim’s triumphant win over Sligo first in the show rather than down the order, but it was something that was beyond the Sunday Game’s newsroom colleagues at six and at nine o’clock.

Is this because RTÉ have upped their game in the light of Newstalk’s challenge on the radio? It’s possible, but it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that there is a rising standard in the way the games are covered. Each can make the other better by forcing excellence, instead of settling for the mediocrity that comes from monopoly.

Your correspondent was contacted on Twitter during the weekend over some robust criticism of a GAA piece on The Journal on Friday night, since taken down. My friend told me, in not so many words, that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and, as such, perhaps I shouldn’t have gone so medieval in my remarks.

And I take that on board. Few things are as hateful as bullies. But it’s also important to have standards and if we don’t excoriate the mediocre we can never identify the good. So hail, then, The Sunday Game, for not going through the motions and giving Leitrim their due.

GAA isn’t like other sports. There is nothing more local than the GAA and it’s from this local rivalry that the organisation derives its great strength. The GAA doesn’t exist in the same world of glamour as English soccer or European rugby. But for the people of Roscommon and Letrim in the joyous three weeks of anticipation ahead of them, it’s Heaven descended unto the Earth.

The GAA means nothing in the world of Eurovision or X-Factor or Glenda and Rosanna. It exists somewhere else; in shops where people get messages, marts where farmers look and don’t buy, bars that sell pints of special and locals keep money for funeral pints in jars. It’s outside church gates and chip shops and petrol stations and all the places where people meet to talk and ask well; how do you think they’ll do on Sunday? It’s a magical place, really. I think they call it “Ireland.”