Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Role of the Pundit

Willie Joe, the eminence behind the Mayo GAA Blog, opined on Saturday that the opinion of the national GAA pundits doesn’t matter. “Such babble is simply noise, annoying and grating noise to many ears, but just noise nonetheless,” wrote that great and good man.

It is noise, of course. But it shouldn’t be. That’s the point. It shouldn’t be.

There are two types of people to whom punditry – pre and post match analysis of sporting contests, Gaelic football in our particular case – is aimed. The first is the general watcher who doesn’t follow the games and isn’t particularly knowledgeable but is watching because a child or a boyfriend is interested, or a neighbour is playing, or a team has gone deep in the Championship and the whole parish is now talking about nothing else.

The second is the actual fan, who goes to all games at all grades. He or she has maybe played at some level, or coached, or sells the club lotto on Saturday night. But that doesn’t mean that he or she has ever played in Croke Park before 50,000 people and knows what that extraordinary experience is like. He or she has watched Championships unfold year after year and likes to compare one year with another, one team with another, one player with another, one philosophy or experience with another.

In other words, punditry should reach out to everyone who watches the game, irrespective of the level of his or her own knowledge, experience or exposure. Neither of these needs is being met.

Part of it, of course, is because of our national refusal to ever take anything seriously. Sure it’s only a bit of craic. People think it’s a laugh to see Brolly and Pat Spillane getting stuck into each other.

If I want a laugh I’ll read the Program for Government. Football is serious, and due deference should be paid. Deference should be paid for those who don’t live and die by the game but are still interested for all the reasons listed above.

Deference should be paid for those who do live and die by the game and expect it to be analysed by those for whom the game has the same magnitude in their lives.

That’s the problem with the current level of punditry. It’s not that pundits are too harsh on players. It’s that they’re not harsh enough.

Pat Spillane rowed back on his (typically strident) criticism of Donegal in the very first game of the Championship after Donegal won their first Ulster title in nineteen years earlier this month. It’d be easier to respect Spillane if he said he still couldn’t stand it, matteradamn how many Anglo-Celts they win. At least he’d be consistent, instead of running with both hare and hounds. He’ll be back damning them again when – if – they lose again in the Championship, thus making you wonder if he only took a crack because he thought it was a free shot. There’s something kind of rotten about that sort of behaviour.

People think that controversy is better than the mind-numbing and stomach churning smugness of the BBC’s Match of the Day couch. But what’s currently served by RTÉ isn’t controversy. It’s lads acting the jackass. Lads who are just as capable of the BBC’s old pals act when the son of one of the guild is playing. For instance.

And it doesn’t have to be that way. There is a new generation of pundits now, men who call the game as they see it but who don’t rub players noses in it either. Anthony Tohill and Dara Ó Cinnéide on RTÉ, and Peter Canavan on TV3 are superb, to name but three. The sooner they take over from the washed out vaudeville of the current RTÉ front line panel the better off the game and the people will be.