Monday, December 19, 2016

The Sporting Year in Review




2016 was a good year in Irish sport. There’s no getting around it. Both soccer teams progressed from their respective groups in the European Championships. The Olympians came back from Brazil, unlike all of the administrators, and some of those Olympians even came back with medals.

Rather than falling to pieces after the end of the golden generation, the rugby team has gone from strength to strength. And the hurling and football Championships remained the heartbeat of the sporting year. Nothing here not to like.

The story was abroad that the winning of three All-Irelands in four years would confirm Dublin’s status as one of the all-time great teams has come to pass. For all the talk of the advantages enjoyed by Dublin - home advantage in every game, pots of money, apparently limitless resources – those advantages were enjoyed by every Dublin team before them, and they did not bring home the same amount of the bacon. The biggest advantage twenty-first century Dublin enjoys is the shameful and embarrassing current standard of Leinster football, but it’s arguable whether or not that really is an advantage in this Qualifier era.

Dublin were truly tested in the drawn and replayed All-Ireland Finals and proved themselves true Champions in that replay. Everything that had gone wrong in the drawn game was righted in the replay. All Jim Gavin’s switches worked, and Dublin are clearly the best team in the land. More luck to them.

Tipperary struck a blow against Kilkenny’s hurling hegemony in a strangely subdued final. It is a tribute to Kilkenny that the withstood the Premier tide as long as they did, showing that incredible defiance that has been Brian Cody’s hallmark during his long reign.

Yet for all that, hurling needs new teams. Maybe Waterford will break through. Clare will certainly find out if it was all poor Davy’s fault after all, while Cork remain in the wilderness, the most telling summer absence since Kerry’s missing decade of the ‘eighties and ‘nineties.

In the wider GAA world, the President of the Association made a remarkable speech about flags and anthems, but the lead on that story was surprisingly missed by most of the media. Surely the real story of Ó Fearrghail’s speech was not the substance – or lack thereof – of what he said, but the fact that getting strong booze out in Abu Dhabi must be far easier than previously reported. Only the foxy devil itself could be behind such bizarre remarks.

The biggest disappointment of the year was the news of Newstalk’s losing of live radio broadcast rights to GAA matches for five years. Newstalk revolutionised radio GAA coverage in this country. Newstalk revolutionised GAA coverage by giving players enough time to settle, to build trust and rapport with the interviewer and then say what they really thought, instead of trapping them in the to-and-fro of dated platitudinous nonsense that is still the house style of the national broadcaster.

But it was in the live coverage Newstalk came into its own. Firstly, it used younger analysts, who were more in touch with the modern game. Secondly, it used two color analysts during the game itself, and a pitchside reporter as well. When it worked well, it worked brilliantly – it was like standing at a game behind two really knowledgeable and articulate ex-players, and learning so much just from listening to them. And when it didn’t work well, it was still excellent.

And now that’s all gone. The media reaction has been to condemn the decision but we aren’t quite getting the full picture here either. Newstalk are strapped for cash and may have offered the GAA a figure that was just too low for them to take seriously. Who knows? The loss is on both sides, perhaps.

In rugby, mouths are watering in anticipation of a Six Nations that precedes a Lions Tour. Ireland and England are joint favourites – or should be, certainly – with the delicious prospect of a Grand Slam game at Lansdowne Road the day after St Patrick’s Day. Or Ireland could screw it up against the porridge-munchers in Edinburgh. God knows it’s happened before.

The prospect of a Lions Tour must be bitter-sweet this time around. The Barbarians were wiped out more or less instantly by professionalism, while the Lions turned into something of a juggernaut. But professionalism has no room for the very concept of a Lions Tour, and the thing is further bedevilled by the growing absence of hosts.

Full test tours to Australia only started in the late ‘eighties, while South Africa was still boycotted over apartheid, and the Australians have never taken to the idea. South Africa is coming into a period of considerable political uncertainly and may not be able to host its tour in 2021. What, then, would be the point in continuing the Lions if only New Zealand were there to host them? Let’s hope they go out with a bang. Nothing lasts forever, and the Lions were the stuff that dreams are made of, once upon a time.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Dáil Privilege - Was Alan Farrell Acting Alone?

Peadar Toibín, Sinn Féin TD for Meath West, raised an interesting question on Saturday with Claire Byrne yesterday. Is it entirely a coincidence that Alan Farrell, Fine Gael TD for Dublin Fingal, may or may not have tested the limits of Dáil privilege at the same time that a case on that very topic is before the courts?

The panel discussion didn’t stay on that topic, as the panelists were there to bury Gerry Adams and not to discuss wider issues of freedom of speech and media ownership. Let’s hope some other media is a little more curious about the nature of coincidence.

Especially in the light of an interview given by Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty to Richard Crowley on the News at One on Friday. Doherty contradicted herself in less than a minute on whether or not she had spoken to Farrell in the course of the interview. The relevant section starts at 11 minutes and forty-five seconds into a fourteen-minute, two-second piece:

CROWLEY: Was it wise of Alan Farrell to drag in Mr Ellis and Mr Ferris into this?

DOHERTY: Do you know actually, I haven’t spoken to him all week, but I think given the chatter that was going on inside Leinster House all week and the names of what are parliamentary colleagues I think he was attempting to allow them the opportunity, the same opportunity as Gerry Adams –

CROWLEY: Do you think? Do you think?

DOHERTY: Well, I’m assuming that’s what his intentions were.

CROWLEY: He didn’t speak to you beforehand about it, did he?

DOHERTY: Unfortunately, I wasn’t in that day. I put my back out this week so I was off that week –

CROWLEY: He didn’t speak to you on the phone then, as the Chief Whip, before he raised that in the Dáil?

DOHERTY: Not beforehand we didn’t speak, no, but obviously we have spoken since.

So, Doherty has either obviously spoken to Deputy Farrell since, or else she hasn’t spoken to him all week. It plainly can’t be both, and it is very much in the public interest to find out which.

Because it is very much in the public interest to find out who, if anyone, put Deputy Farrell up to this, or if this idea is a solo run on his part.

Deputy Toibín suggested on Saturday with Claire Byrne that Deputy Farrell was put up to it by Niall O’Connor, political correspondent of the Irish Independent. O’Connor was also a guest on Saturday with Claire Byrne and he vehemently denied the suggestion, saying that while certainly he had been seen talking with Deputy Farrell during the week, it was about some fun run in Malahide that O’Connor was going to cover for the Evening Herald, also part of the Independent Group.

We can only take O’Connor’s work on that. For all that, readers are warned not to be surprised if a policy of de Farrello nihil nisi bonum – of Farrell, nothing but good – is instituted among the Independent Group. Over the next number of months Deputy Farrell may appear kissing babies, weeping over refugees and mentioned as shoo-in for a top cabinet job once Enda finally shuffles off within the pages of the many papers of the Denis O’Brien media empire, or on the airwaves of its broadcasting arm, Newstalk and Today FM.

Because the co-incidences are mounting here. It is an extra-ordinary coincidence that:


  • Out of the 4,000-odd people killed as a result of the Troubles in the North, the Brian Stack murder is now of greater parliamentary concern than the 3,999 others;
  • That the limits of Dáil privilege are tested to their breaking point at the same time as a case on that very issue is before the courts, taken by the publisher of the Irish Independent, Denis O’Brien.


The majority, if not the totality, of op-ed pieces in the papers condemn Adams as operating to a different standard as every other Dáil leader. But of course he is, because he comes from a very different place to the rest of Dáil. The whole purpose of the peace process was to involve Adams and others like him in regular politics, and drawing a line under the past is a necessary part of that, just as it has been in all post-conflict situations all over the world.

It is extra-ordinarily craven, pathetic and embarrassing for the political establishment to be so short-sighted about Adams’ role in the past forty years of Irish history, to the extent of risking the peace for doubtful short-term gain. Because the peace is at risk.

Adams only looks a hawk south of the border. He is very much a dove on the other side and, while the southern media might dream of day talking social justice with Eoin Ó Broin and Louise O’Reilly, they are naïve in the extreme if they think the hawks have all flown away in the North, and if there aren’t one or two waiting for Adams and McGuinness to move on and ask people if Bobby Sands died in vain.

Part of this naivety stems from a new, partitionist mentality in the south that is not only quite happy with a divided Ireland but want no part of those troublesome, scared-of-the-future, stuck-in-the-past Nordies.

But leaving aside the aspirations and speaking only of practicalities, the peace is as impactful on the Republic of Ireland as Brexit. A land border is a land border and if things kick off again in the North they will kick off in the South just as sure as Denis O’Brien likes suing newspapers.

And because of that Deputy Doherty should tell us exactly what is going on with Alan Farrell and who, if anyone, is pulling his stings. Because one day that puppet-master might pull the wrong string, and whole damn place is drenched in the blood of innocents once more.

Monday, October 10, 2016

An Garda Síochána, and the Corruption Inherent in Irish Public Life


There is none righteous; no, not one.
St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter 3, Verse 10.

Well, I’ve been down so very damn long
That it looks like up to me.
Jim Morrison, Down So Long.

Government Chief Whip Regina Doherty was a guest on Today with Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One on Friday, explaining why the Government was dragging its heels on the latest episode of the Garda Whistleblower controversy. “The revelation was only made on Monday,” said Deputy Doherty. “Today is Friday.”

It is Deputy Doherty’s job to appear on radio and explain that, had an Taoiseach doused her with petrol and set her alight just before she came on air, it was great to get warmed up, what with the winter drawing in and all. But sometimes, you have to come out with your hands up and say look, there’s a worm in the apple and that’s just how it is. We need a new apple. This one just isn’t any good.

The nature of the Gardaí’s internal disciplinary procedure has been in question for years. Years. And it’s not just the whistleblowers – there is also the genuinely extraordinary story of the tremendous balls made of the investigation into the murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, and that happened over twenty years ago. What are these guys doing? Why are they getting away with it?

It is the done thing in functional democracies to hold people in power to a higher standard of probity than ordinary citizens. This is because great power brings great responsibility with it. The oldest example of that level of probity is Julius Caesar’s, who remarked that not only he, but his wife also, must both be above suspicion.

This is not how we roll in Ireland. In Ireland, access to power means that you are given a benefit of doubt that you by no means deserve, and a benefit of doubt that an ordinary citizen could not dream of. Nobody resigns in Ireland because they’ve done something wrong. In Ireland, a powerful person only loses his or her job when he or she is dragged kicking and screaming from it. Vide Alan Shatter, our previous minister for Justice, the nature of whose precise exit from government has never been made 100% clear.

And now he we have it repeating again. If the previous Garda Commissioner had to resign, the appointment of that previous Commissioner’s right-hand woman as the next Commissioner doesn’t exactly signal regime change. Nobody knows what’s going with these half-spoken allegations, but your correspondent is hardly alone in wanting them sorted out as soon as possible.

And what do get? Niall Collins of Fianna Fáil on Prime Time repeating “due process, due process” like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz saying there’s no place like home, each hoping to be magically taken over the rainbow.

And Deputy Collins, theoretically, isn’t even in Government. It is fashionable in Irish political commentary to describe chicanery as a particularly Fianna Fáil trait but if there is one thing our remarkably slow-witted nation should take from all this is that our political class are all the same.

Ireland’s political system is broken. It encourages us to vote for our lesser, rather than our better, angels, and continuous ramshackle government is our reward.

It is to Deputy Mick Wallace’s credit that he has been so dogged in pursuit of Garda malfeasance. If only Deputy Wallace were equally dogged in paying his taxes. Deputy Wallace’s stance on the current garda controversy does not excuse the nation for its lack of judgment in re-electing a tax dodger. He can’t do that. He has to set an example, and the pursuit of the whistleblower case doesn’t make tax-dodging excusable.

Ireland has to demand higher standards from our public representatives. My own opinion is that our proportional representation, single-transferable-vote electoral system and our libel laws that protect the strong at the expense of the weak have to be changed and even then, it will be a generation before any real change can be seen.

I pray to God to it happens but right now, looking at the contemporary Irish political scene, I might as well pray for the Irish rugby team to beat New Zealand in both Chicago and Dublin when they play at the end of the month. There’s a better chance of it happening.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Mayo Post-Mortem #65 - Misadventure

It has been said that one of the keys to winning is not to beat yourself. The Mayo management team went against that cardinal rule in the All-Ireland Final replay, and paid the inevitable price.

Would Mayo have won if David Clarke had started in goals ahead of Robbie Hennelly? We’ll never know. But it is clear that while Stephen Rochford won the sideline battle in the drawn game, Jim Gavin beat him all ends up in the replay.

The theory advanced by Rochford himself for the change of goalkeeper was that Dublin’s winning of turnovers off kickouts in the final quarter of the drawn game was significant. That’s debatable. What’s not debatable is that the cure was worse than the disease and now Mayo have yet another year to lick their wounds and dream of the top table.

Gavin’s analysis of and reaction to the drawn game was much better than Rochford’s. Gavin realised that the clock just doesn’t go backwards, and Bernard Brogan and Michael Dara MacAuley, corner-stones of this Dublin side, are now past their prime. So Gavin dropped both, knowing that they could contribute when they came on. And so it came to pass.

In his selection of Mick Fitzsimons, Gavin also found a man to do what many have tried and failed to do all summer – shut down Andy Moran. In the winter of his career, Moran has been the centerpiece of the Mayo attack. Moran was the only Mayo full-forward to score from play on Saturday but he was nothing like as influential as he had been in the middle of the summer and, without that influence, the Mayo attack withered on the vine.

So credit Gavin, in many ways. But it would not serve history to anoint Dublin a superteam like Kerry in the ‘seventies or Down or Galway in the ‘sixties, forces that could not be denied. Dublin were never able to put Mayo away, even after Mayo had gifted them two goals in the drawn game and 1-4 in the replay. A catastrophic error was made in Mayo’s selection, and there is no getting around that.

But it’s done and the clock doesn’t go back. The Mayo News tweeted that Cillian O’Connor told the Mayo post-match banquet last night that the future is bright and he’s not wrong. Cillian O’Connor himself is only 24 years old. Diarmuid O’Connor is 21. Aidan O’Shea is 26. The age profile of the team is very good.

This isn’t so much a golden as a platinum generation of Mayo footballers. That’s why the mutiny, ugly though it was, was worthwhile, and that’s why it’s legitimate to be as frank about where this All-Ireland Final was lost as we can be.

It’s important that the management be as honest as they can be as they assess this year and plan for next. Insofar as can be established, because very little news escapes the camp, the priority of the year has been defence. This is one of the reasons that Mayo looked so poor against Kildare, Westmeath and Tipperary – they were not set up to attack but to defend, and to take such scores as might accrue.

Part of this has to do with the nostrum that Mayo’s failure to win All-Irelands having appeared in so many finals was down to two fatal flaws – the absence of a “marquee forward,” and a chronic inability to defend goals.

Malachy Clerkin of the Irish Times was good enough to list all the goals that Mayo conceded in recent big games, going back to the 2012 All-Ireland final. And that’s all grand; goals have certainly been conceded. But reader, every other team concedes goals too.

The concession of goals happens in football. The fact you can score goals and points in football is one of the things that makes it great. What is important in the analysis is whether those goals Mayo conceded could have been defended.

It has become generally accepted that James Horan erred in his defensive setup to allow Michael Murphy to score his goal in the 2012 Final. But it’s not like Michael Murphy is an ordinary footballer. It must be accepted that an exceptional talent like Murphy can’t be stopped and can only be contained.

So Michel Murphy scored a goal; credit Murphy. That doesn’t mean the Mayo defence is Swiss cheese and needs seven men back there instead of six. The vim that Kevin McLoughlin added to the Mayo attack when he moved up the field suggests that Mayo were at a double-loss in playing McLoughlin as a sweeper.

These are the questions that the Mayo management have to ask themselves in the long winter ahead. What do we know, really? Is what we think true, really true? If the Mayo defence is so leaky, how did the team ge to six straight All-Ireland semi-finals, winning three and drawing two? If the Mayo attack is so threadbare, how did Mayo get to six straight All-Ireland semi-finals, winning three and drawing two?

These are sums that don’t add up. And here’s another: if Dublin are the team of the decade, what are Mayo? No team matches up against Dublin better than Mayo. No team seems to get under Dublin’s skin as much, to throw them out of their rhythm as much. That would suggest that Mayo are the second best team in Ireland.

But Dublin have won four All-Irelands in the past six years. Mayo have won no All-Irelands in sixty-five years. In our system, that means that Mayo are nowhere. To be in the conversation, you have to take Sam home. When Mayo win the All-Ireland, then we can have the conversation. Until then, there isn’t a conversation to be had.

That conversation will start at about five or half-past five on September 17th next year. Up Mayo.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Dublin Hound and the Mayo Hare



First published in the Western People on Monday.

In these magical years, when Mayo have knocked so hard and so consistently on the Great Door of Glory, a certain amount of energy was wasted every year worrying over where the team’s Achilles’ heel was prior to each particular Final.

People would worry about how the team could possibly mark Kieran Donaghy or Michael Murphy. Childhood friends would fall out over who should take frees on the left hand side. Duels were threatened over whether this game or that game was lost on the line. And so on and so forth.

One of the many remarkable things about this year’s campaign has been the absence of that sort of worrying, even though this 2016 team is, arguably, more visibly flawed than the ones that went before it.

John Maughan’s 1996 team could hang their hats on a magnificent six-point win over Kerry in the All-Ireland semi-final, still the last time Mayo beat the Kingdom in the Championship. Maughan’s 2004 team beat Tyrone. 2006 had two incredible victories over the Dubs, the game itself and the battle immediately before it, in the shadow of the Hill.

James Horan’s teams had more glory days than we can count. Even the ill-fated and unhappy reign of last year’s management had that triumphant Saturday evening win over Donegal.

This year hasn’t been like any of those. Worrying, disaffected displays in the League were followed by that shocking Saturday evening in a wet and miserable McHale Park, as Mayo tumbled out of the Connacht Championship for the first time since 2010.

Some people thought a run in the qualifiers would be the making of Mayo. The theory is that the back door allows for building in incremental improvements, away from the spotlight, until you come bursting back into All-Ireland contention.

And that’s fine, as long as you’re incrementally improving. There’s been very little to suggest that Mayo are improving, as they’ve huffed and puffed to get past Fermanagh, Kildare and Tipperary, with only the victory over Tyrone feeling like something substantial.

And now, somehow, Mayo find themselves in another All-Ireland Final, against Dublin. If this were one those hideous reality TV dating shows, there would be no problem telling the metropolitans and the Mayomen apart.

Dublin would be dressed in those Rumpelstiltskin-style shoes, brown and pointy. They’d have drainpipe jeans paired with a pricey-looking shirt – no tie, of course. They’d be clean-shaven, iron-jawed and wearing enough product in their hair to keep the pistons of a David Brown 990 tractor lubricated until well into the winter.

Bedraggled Mayo, by contrast, are covered from head to toe in clay, dirt and the sort of scratches you get from digging with your bare hands. Mayo would look like they had to tunnel in by hand to get there at all. Which, of course, is exactly what they have had to do. For Mayo, this summer has been defined by struggle.

Mayo could lose on Sunday. God knows, it’s not like it’d be the first time. All the balls that bounced their way in the summer could bounce against them.

Someone could get sent off for some bizarre black card infraction. Someone else could forget he’s sweeper this Sunday. If a bolt of lightning were to blow the ball up just as it’s crossing the black spot for the winning point we wouldn’t be entirely surprised. If such a calamity could befall anyone, it’d befall Mayo on the third Sunday in September.

But, but, but. Every now and again, in all of the matches, there have been moments that make you wonder. David Clarke charging off his line to stop the baby being thrown out with the bathwater in those anxious final minutes against Tyrone. Colm Boyle bouncing up and down with passion and fury and sheer, raw want. Aidan O’Shea taking constant abuse and still getting up and going again, time after time, game after game.

It’s hard to imagine these men are thinking of making up the numbers on Sunday. It’s hard to see Mayo willingly playing the hare to Dublin’s hound.

Dublin have that greyhound trait about them – the speed, the relentlessness, always giving the impression that they are born to do this, and only this. What Dublin might not be so good at doing is adapting to circumstances.

The greyhound expects the hare to always run away. If the hare stands his ground, the greyhound has to look for Plan B – if he has a Plan B.

We have seen Dublin shocked twice in recent years. Donegal turned them over as seven-to-one outsiders in that 2014 semi-final that wasn’t played in Limerick, and Kerry shocked Dublin last month. Dublin reacted better against Kerry this year than against Donegal in 2014 but – if it’s not Gaelic Football heresy to even think it – maybe Donegal ’14 had a little more in the locker than Kerry ’16, and that made a difference too.

Dublin aren’t the first team to be hailed as unbeatable. There have been many of them, down the years. But once the unbeatable team goes down as they all have, the mortality that was always there is suddenly obvious to all. Of course the Cluxton kickout was the rock on which they built their church – when that collapsed, everything else crumbled with it. Of course the team had peaked, and had nowhere to go but down. Sure that was obvious, if only we’d been looking.

What is particularly interesting from a Mayo perspective is that, having prayed so long for The Ultimate Team, we are now sending into a battle a flawed team with just a single gift, the gift of doing just enough to win. A team that knows it only has to be better than what’s in front of it, rather than the best of all time. Will the change of focus finally direct all Mayo’s energy to ridding ourselves of that sixty-five-year-old monkey on our backs once and for all? We’ll know by five o’clock on Sunday. Up Mayo.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Proposed New Championship Structure is a GPA Trojan Horse

The GAA announced a new partnership deal with the GPA on July 25th of this year. Ten days later, the GAA announced an unexpected new proposal to reform the football Championship that will go before next year’s Congress and, if accepted, will start in 2018.

It may be that these events are simply a co-incidence. It may be that the money was simply resting in Father Crilly’s account. Either requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

The Irish ability to moan about the inevitable is a sad fault in the national psyche. It was this school of constant moaning about not being able to time Uncle Timmy’s return from beyond in America that lead to this A/B designation in the qualifiers, and inadvertently killed the best thing that fifteen years of the Qualifiers have given us – that extraordinary Gaelic football carnival that was the August Bank Holiday weekend.

All four quarter-finals being played over the August Bank Holiday weekend was like all the gunfighters arriving in Dodge City at the same time and you wouldn’t know who would be left standing until the smoke cleared.

That sense of occasion has been lessened by the quarter-finals now being spread over two days, even though neither Uncle Timmy nor the man in the moon knows if his team is in the A or B bracket, and Uncle Timmy as wise as ever he was in planning his return to the green isle of Erin.

Now the Association has come up with this proposal to insert a round-robin style playoff at what was the quarter-final stage, where the four provincial winners and the four survivors of the qualifiers will play each other, and the top four then go on to contest the semi-finals.

Ostensibly, this will create more games between the better teams, and free up time in the calendar to let counties properly organize their club Championships.

But wait – if the “better” teams are playing in this round-robin thing, what’s everybody else up to?

Since its inception, the mission of the GPA has been to exalt the county player as a special being within the Association. They have drawn in their horns in that regard in recent years, but leopards don’t generally change their spots. Professionalism has always been the GPA’s aim, and if they couldn’t swing it by hook they are now attempting to swing it by crook.

The Examiner’s excellent Kieran Shannon has repeatedly pointed out that one of the big causes of separation in the GAA between haves and have-nots is that there are only eight teams playing in Division 1 of the League. They get better by playing each other and, when a Division 1 team plays a team from a lower Division, the lower Division team doesn’t know what hit them until it’s all far too late. There are exceptions, but that’s generally how it works.

Now, consider that advantage coupled with the existence of a mini-Division 1 played in the best weather in which to play football, with 24 other counties looking on like Moses looking at the Promised Land, knowing that he can never go there.

Give it five years and the counties currently struggling to keep players at home long enough to play in the provincial Championships before high-tailing it to the States will be broken at last. In the meantime the elite will have become even more deeply embedded and the separation will be clear even to the dullest of minds.

It will be only logical, then, for some top players from the second-class counties to look to moving to a first-class county rather than go to the States – home birds, people who can't live without the Kerr Pinks, and so on - and that can be sorted out. It’s been done before, and after a while it will become a well-worn path.

Then the GAA will be in the same situation as rugby – eight professional teams where rugby has four, while the others continue on as before, but far, far away from the limelight and with no chance of a day in the sun again.

So far we haven’t heard how this Championship restructure idea came about, but your correspondent is willing to bet his best pair of shoes that it started with the GPA. Delegates at next year’s Congress will want to perform due diligence on this proposal, and beware of the GPA bearing gifts. Gift horses seldom work out for cities under siege.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Mickey Harte's Ongoing Boycott of RTÉ

Tyrone manager Mickey Harte hasn’t given an interview to RTÉ in five years, and counting. He has no problem with any Tyrone player doing interviews with RTÉ, but they don’t do them either, out of solidarity. Harte and the players do interviews with other media organisations, but not RTÉ.

How has this come to pass, and how can it have dragged on for so long?

It all started when Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh retired as RTÉ’s lead Gaelic Games broadcaster in the autumn of 2010. Some people thought that Brian Carthy would succeed Ó Muircheartaigh but instead RTÉ chose a rotating selection of commentators, including using commentators who were previously TV-only, such as Marty Morrissey and Ger Canning.

The feeling arose, rightly or wrongly, that RTÉ Sports were operating an anyone-but-Carthy policy. On May 23rd, 2011, Noel Curran, then Director-General of RTÉ, received a confidential letter protesting Carthy’s treatment. The letter was allegedly signed by Mickey Harte, Kieran McGeeney, Brian Cody, Mickey Moran, Justin McNulty, Conor Counihan and Kevin Walsh.

The details of the letter were leaked to the media, and portrayed as an attempt to dictate to RTÉ whom it should or shouldn’t employ. This is exactly what the letter was, of course, but this sort of lobbying occurs all the time. It may be a coincidence that Anthony Tohill disappeared from the Sunday Game after his criticism of Kerry’s Paul Galvin. Or it may not. Who knows?

Lobbying goes on all the time, with mixed success. Most broadcasters pay it no need. It's entirely their decision whom they employ or don't employ - how else, after all, would Tommy "Tom" Carr currently be commentating? It's not because the nation demands it, or will stop watching if Tommy isn't there to enlighten the viewing public.

Back to 2011. John Murray used to present a light-entertainment show on RTÉ Radio 1 in 2011 after Morning Ireland, in the slot currently occupied by Ryan Tubridy. The John Murray Show was light entertainment – a lot like a 2FM show, but less shouty, less music and with more material about going for walks and dealing with lumbago.

A fortnight after the letter protesting Carthy’s treatment arrived on Noel Curran’s desk, John Murray opened his show with a mock interview with Mickey Harte. The setup was that Murray asked questions that would be answered by recordings of Mickey Harte speaking in another context.

The idea was to satirise the idea of Mickey Harte deciding what RTÉ did or didn’t do. So Murray asks Mickey if it’d be OK for him (Murray) to present a show that morning from 9 to 10. When Mickey is OK with what, Murray went on to apologise for the Dalai Lama not being a guest (Harte had recently met the Dalai Lama) and, when Harte seemed to ask for a request, Murray played ten seconds of Daniel O’Donnell singing “The Pretty Little Girl from Omagh.”

This was an unfortunate choice of tune. Mickey Harte had a daughter who was a pretty little girl from Ballygawley, sixteen miles from Omagh. Michaela Harte was murdered at the age of 27 while on her honeymoon in January of 2011. It would be a lot to expect of Mickey Harte to see the funny side of that choice of song six months after burying his daughter.

And this is the reason for the dispute. RTÉ issued an apology for the sketch, saying that they regretted any offence caused, that this regret was “immediately and personally” communicated to Mickey Harte, and that RTÉ did not leak the letter.

The question of who did or didn't leak the letter is probably best solved by asking qui bono - who benefits from its leak? But it's odd the statement mentions the letter, because the letter doesn't matter in the light of the appalling tastelessness of the sketch. I don’t know if John Murray ever apologised on air, to the nation, about the sketch but I certainly don’t remember it or could find trace of it online.

What, then, to do? The Tyrone County Board, by all accounts, are deeply unhappy about the RTÉ boycott and are moving might and main to get Harte to relent. In the light of Harte’s actions concerning his home club in the ’eighties, it will take more than might or main to move him. Harte is a stubborn man, and it takes an awful lot to turn him.

So the question then arises of whether or not RTÉ have done enough to show their horror at so ghastly a sketch. Interviewed in the Irish News, Sunday Game host Michael Lyster is quoted as saying that “It’s not for the lack of effort or not for the lack of want” that the dispute is now in its fifth year.

We all inform our consciences in different ways. Some people would sit in the car outside Mickey Harte’s house day and night waiting to be forgiven. If crawling would help Harte carry his cross, why not crawl? It costs you nothing, and you may do some good. However unfair you feel Harte is being in his reaction, Michaela’s death was still worse by no small order.

Maybe RTÉ have done that. Maybe John Murray or Noel Curran or Ryle Nugent, RTÉ’s head of sport, sat in the car outside Mickey Harte’s house waiting for a chance to make good for days before giving up. Maybe they did.

The John Murray show ended on RTÉ Radio One in June, 2015. Murray himself was back on air in August of 2015 as one of the co-anchors of Weekend Sport. It is not known if the employment of Murray as a sports anchor is part of the effort or part of the want that Michael Lyster referred to in describing the national broadcaster’s attempts to bridge the gap between themselves and Mickey Harte.