It’s the Monday after a bumper weekend of provincial championship football action the likes of which we are rarely treated to. Almost 600 minutes of football with 17 goals and 239 points scored across all four provinces. It all culminated in historic victories for both Carlow and Longford, defying the odds to reach Leinster semi-finals for the first time in forever. Carlow’s win over Kildare was a Division Four team defeating a Division One team. It was the story of the Championship summer so far. Yet despite all of that, we didn’t get a single kick shown live on Irish television.
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While there has been plenty written about the issue in GAA newspaper columns and social media over the last number of weeks, a couple of points deserve to be highlighted…
Firstly, the GAA have made huge noise about the TV deals they’ve made with broadcasting corporations in recent years. RTÉ, BBC, TG4 and now Sky Sports are all massive players when it comes to broadcasting live gaelic games. Huge cheques have changed hands. The GAA comes across as proud of what is has achieved in this market. Yet, on one of the biggest championship weekends in the season, no football match was live on TV. In fairness to the BBC, they showed full, deferred coverage of Derry v Donegal last night, and on Saturday evening the Down v Antrim Ulster quarter-final was shown live on iPlayer. Whilst the game in Newry won’t have garnered huge attention (partly because it isn’t available to view outside the north, partly because Liverpool were playing in the Champions League final at the same time), the online nature of the broadcast provides a glimpse into what the GAA need to concentrate on when it comes to looking at their broadcasting future. There is a massive opportunity for them to create an online subscription channel (as we have discussed before). Can you imagine watching yesterday’s games simultaneously across four panels on your laptop? Gaelic games fans would be more than willing to pay for that.
Whilst not showing games on TV is one thing, another – more sinister – issue has raised its head since the start of the 2018 championship: a hike in match ticket prices. A ticket into a seated stand at Ulster Championship matches is £30. Is the increase related to a lack of TV coverage? The possibility needs entertained at the very least. And though the Ulster Council will try and save face by saying tickets are available at £24 to buy pre-match, why are all tickets not £24? There was also some disquiet at Celtic Park yesterday that the central sections of the stand were taken up mostly by those who had previously purchased GAA season tickets (which, as you may expect, was mostly Donegal followers – Derry would not have sold too many). Subsequently, the GAA has essentially created a hierarchy of supporter levels. It is in direct conflict with say, a young family, who might only decide to go to a game on the Sunday morning, because it’s 21 degrees outside. They will get to sit in the worst seats, and pay extra for the privilege.
Lucky for me, I was able to actually watch some live football yesterday at Celtic Park, were Derry struggled to an expected six-point defeat to neighbours Donegal. What was noticeable about the occasion though, was that it was doing very little to provide value to those who had paid to get through the turnstiles. There was very little entertainment or engagement with the fans and nothing going on at all for young kids. An accordion band isn’t attractive to modern football supporters. More needs to be done to attract families especially.
Another thing that struck me about the game – admittedly, from Section K of the stand (for those not familiar with Celtic Park, Section K is somewhere near the Guildhall) – was how dead the atmosphere was. This was surely expounded by Donegal opening up an early deficit, but I wasn’t off my seat once throughout the 70 minutes. Barely raised my voice once either. It wasn’t helped of course by the result never being in doubt; but the game itself was lacking. There was no cut and thrust. Unfortunately, that’s how football is being played more and more these days and it will be another major factor in dwindling attendances. One team carries the ball to the opponent’s 45′ while the opponent brings 15 players behind the ball and dares them to try and score. The game is played in phases, not in the open, dynamic fashion that nature intended. There will still be interest in the highest level of Gaelic football, but when the entertainment factor diminishes, it becomes a tough ticket to sell.
We’ll still like to watch on TV, but actually going to a game just won’t be worth it.
And if the games aren’t on TV…?
Ulster SFC quarter-final: Derry 0-16 Donegal 2-16
Whilst Derry are left to traverse the familiar contours of the All-Ireland qualifiers, Donegal, under first-year manager Declan Bonner will be delighted with how the Ulster championship has opened up for them. Yesterday’s win at Celtic Park had its platform in the opening eight minutes, after which the away side led 0-4 to 0-0 and never looked back. Having watched them in the flesh, two things stood out to me: their kickout strategy is fantastic. Time and again they found two v one mismatches with Shaun Patton’s kick-passing unerring. Secondly, they have serious pace and speed of thought. All their players are on the one page and they attack seamlessly at times, with Patrick McBrearty the chief executioner.
During last night’s deferred coverage on BBC, Martin McHugh said he was disappointed in Derry as he thought they never believed they could win. Whilst Oisin McConville thought the Oak Leafers could take encouragement, as the game gives them something to build on following the debacle of NFL relegation to Division Four. I actually agree with both sentiments. But despite never expecting a Derry victory yesterday, I still managed to vacate the Bogside feeling despondent, simply because the game was never in doubt. And also, because that’s the sixth successive Ulster quarter-final Derry have played at Celtic Park, and they have only managed to win one of those. (Meanwhile on RTÉ’s The Sunday Game last night, presenter Des Cahill said that no-one would want to go to Derry!)
Yes, Damian McErlain’s side are back on the upward trajectory after an awful Spring, but that elusive Ulster title looks further away than ever.
Ulster SFC quarter-final: Down 1-18 Antrim 0-14
A Kevin McKernan goal close to half-time seemed to take all air out of the Antrim challenge as Down ran out easy winners in Newry. Their players were coming up from all angles to kick points as they tallied an impressive 1-18. But the Mourne outfit are unlikely to get such space and time against Donegal in the Ulster semi-final. Antrim appear to have plateaued at a level below where they would like to be. They can’t get out of Division Four and haven’t had a break through performance (never mind win) in Ulster recently.
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Westmeath 1-12 Laois 4-13
With the bookies at least, this was supposed to be the closest of the four Leinster quarter-finals. So, it didn’t exactly run according to plan. A Paul Kingston hat-trick for Laois enabled them to make short work of Westmeath who had dealt with some unrest in the camp in the last number of weeks – culminating in captain James Dolan’s decision to leave the squad as late as Tuesday night week. Never mind regrouping, the Lakemen may have some rebuilding to do after this defeat. Laois meanwhile, will be delighted with their work so far this season. They have put together a team with a strong spine and they’ll fancy their chances now of reaching the Leinster Final.
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Kildare 1-10 Carlow 2-14
Carlow are another of those counties that have been basking in their NFL success of late, and while promotion to Division Three represents something of a high-water mark for them, making a real impact in the Championship is an entirely different matter. Playing Kildare in Tullamore wasn’t exactly an easy fixture, but it represented the type of opportunity for them to finally make that mark. And boy did they?! The result might just pour some cold water on the recent criticism their coach Steven Poacher has had to endure, while Kildare manager Cian O’Neill described the result as “catastrophic”. There’s plenty of room on the Carlow bandwagon, but Laois are waiting in the wings to derail it for a third time in 2018. But what a story.
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Longford 0-16 Meath 0-14
There was some commotion in GAA betting circles regarding Longford’s 5/2 underdog status for their game against Meath at Pearse Park. It was felt that Longford’s NFL showing deserved more respect. But Denis Connerton’s side proved the doubters wrong on a weekend of upheaval in the eastern province. Pearse Park – despite its structural issues – has a name for taking down big guns, and while the current Meath crop may not fall into that bracket, the win is a huge one for Longford, who haven’t won a Leinster title in 50 years. Dublin are next, which will represent something of a reward for the midlanders. Meath would have liked to test themselves against the Dubs, but they’ll have to lick their wounds in the qualifiers instead.
Leinster SFC quarter-final: Dublin 4-25 Wicklow 1-11
Most of the pre-match hyperbole surrounding this Leinster quarter-final focused on the choice of venue and how the Dubs never have to burden themselves by playing “true” away games in Championship football. It was easy for this narrative to take hold considering there wasn’t much analysis to be done on the football front. The match lived up to its billing, with Dublin forward Ciaran Kilkenny top-scoring with 1-7 in a 23-point rout. Jim Gavin’s side are routinely through to another Leinster semi-final where Longford will play the dual role of novel opponent and lambs to the slaughter.
Munster SFC semi-final: Tipperary 0-9 Cork 1-17
We were suspicious of Tipperary in last week’s email, claiming that this side had yet to truly establish themselves at the national level with a marquee championship victory. And they have flattered to deceive yet again. A number of high profile pundits expected Tipp to further arrest the historical stranglehold of Cork and Kerry in Munster with a win here, but it was never on the cards. Luke Connolly was the star of the show, scoring ten points for the Rebels, and there will be heavy chatter now about Cork becoming contenders again. Unless they beat (probably) Kerry in the Munster Final, then don’t believe it.
Connacht SFC semi-final: Leitrim 0-10 Roscommon 0-24
No surprises in Carrick-on-Shannon on Saturday evening as Roscommon racked up an impressive 24 points en route to a comfortable win over Leitrim. Kevin McStay’s side have their sights firmly set on a second successive Connacht title and a chance to prove themselves in the Super 8s, so this game was a mere road bump on that track (they have been blessed with one of the easiest routes possible to the last eight). Leitrim will be disappointed that they were swept aside so easily, but they’ll be fodder in the second round of the qualifiers.
Last Seven Days
- The fallout from Tyrone’s Ulster Championship loss continues, and there is the potential for a clear divide within the county with some former players lambasting Mickey Harte’s tactics. Here, Philip Jordan speaks out against fellow clubman Sean Cavanagh via RTÉ
- Westmeath’s preparations for their game against Laois weren’t helped by the late withdrawal from the squad by captain James Dolan, who is off to the USA via SportsJOE.ie
- Ahead of Longford’s famous win over Meath yesterday, came a feature on their most recent Leinster title: in 1968 via RTÉ.ie
- Monaghan appear to be on the verge of real success on the national stage, but former Kerry captain Darragh Ó Sé urges caution, claiming a daunting series of Super 8 games might derail the Farneymen’s chances of success via Darragh Ó Sé in The Irish Times
- A lot of talk last week regarding the greatest Gaelic football points of all time. The following piece from Derry GAA does a lovely job of collating the greatest points in the Oak Leaf county’s history. If you need a tonic after yesterday, sit back and enjoy the good times via DerryGAA.ie
Storylines for the Week Ahead
- How good are this Carlow team?
- Further calls for a second-tier Championship following Dublin’s dismantling of lowly Wicklow.
- The rejection of a second-tier Championship following upset victories for Longford and Carlow. (The GAA is a fickle place at times!)
- Are Cork back? (Back to where?)
- How Kerry are shaping up, ahead of their Championship opener against Clare in Killarney.
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