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Sky deal could be good once the cash finds it way down to the grassroots

Darragh Hickey, one of Boherlahan/Duallas key players,  in action against Kilruane MacDonagh. Boherlahan/Dualla and neighbours Cashel King Cormacs clash in Dundrum on Sunday morning next in the county championship.
Not since the infamous ‘ban’ controversy has a more fractious debate engulfed the GAA. To Sky or not to Sky, that is the question.

Not since the infamous ‘ban’ controversy has a more fractious debate engulfed the GAA. To Sky or not to Sky, that is the question.

There’s no doubt the Sky deal has been a hot topic in GAA circles over the past week.

It has managed to convulse the Association into rival factions. It’s either a great deal or a great sell-out, depending on your perspective.

What cannot be denied in all the fuss is that this deal is a major new departure for the Association. It’s not a first, of course, because Setanta already had some Saturday league games tied down but in its scale it certainly broke new ground. Fourteen games is a sizeable chunk of action and the negotiators must have anticipated that there’d be a major kick-back in reaction.

The manner in which the deal was ‘sold’ to the public left some people uneasy. The heavy focus on the diaspora as the main beneficiaries stretched credulity. In the internet age people even in the most out-of-the-way places can stream games so all the deal does is to enhance that coverage rather than initiate it. It will assist the diaspora alright but it’s hardly the great salvation for our emigrants that the spin would have you believe.

The Prime Time programme wasn’t to the GAA’s liking either but surely they anticipated the type of questions that were posed. Mind you I don’t include in that the script-reading audience member who trotted out that old stale nonsense about grab-all Association and so forth. He sounded a bit like Jerry Kiernan in disguise.

Not that I was totally happy with the performance of Padraic Duffy either. I’m sure he’s a very decent and capable director general but the vibe he gave off at times irked a lot of people. Telling those who are put out by the deal that they could attend the games in question had all the subtlety of a Mario Antoinette telling the French peasants to eat cake. Of course he has a point but when you put it in those blunt terms it sounds a bit smarmy.

Look, peel away the spin and the bottom line is that this deal was driven by money. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing a good business deal. In fact one of the great achievements of the Association has been the shrewd commercial performance of Croke Park. In that regard Peter McKenna gets much of the praise.

So I guess it comes down to this question: is the prize in terms of finance and extra exposure worth the concession of free viewing rights which will discommode some people for a limited number of games? Some, no doubt, genuinely feel that an important principle has been sacrificed and I respect that view.

Against that I think the concession is relatively modest. There will be the odd live game that we’ll miss but there’s always the radio and then deferred showing and highlights as well as that trip to the local – assuming you can’t afford the Sky subscription. There’s a great buzz too about the presentation format Sky will bring to the games – fertile ground for Mario Rosenstock and company!

Incidentally I’m unimpressed with the likes of Colm O’Rourke and Pat Spillane and their heavy condemnation of the deal. They’re not exactly neutral observers given their work with RTE and I certainly welcome competition for their particular gig. Besides this guff about selling one’s soul to the devil, or whoever, is arrant nonsense. We heard similar sounds when the ‘ban’ was removed and when Croke Park allowed soccer and rugby, yet how silly do those arguments seem now.

On balance I’m in favour of the deal though I have a built-in proviso that the cash finds its way down to the grass roots in a very visible way and that this is not a slippery slope when the deal is revisited in three years time.

Speaking of grass roots leads on nicely to the launch of our new-format county hurling championship this coming weekend. It’s an all-club action programme with sixteen games on the ‘clar’ and much interest in how the new structure plays out.

There’s not space to go through most of the games but could I plug a fascinating one hereabouts which has relegation as a backdrop even before a ball is pucked in the series. On Sunday morning Cashel K.C. and Boherlahan square up at Dundrum for what is probably the most talked about clash of the first round.

Both teams had to fight off relegation last year at the expense of Golden/Kilfeacle and indeed they met some seasons back in a feisty clash over at Holycross. There’s a perception this time that both of them will find it difficult to beat either Kilruane or Holycross, the other two teams in their group, so the loser here could well finish bottom of the pile and facing a relegation play-off.

The stakes are high then and the local rivalry is intense so expect a full blooded affair on Sunday. Incidentally the King Cormacs are coached by Brian Flannery, ex-Tipp and Waterford hurler, while Boherlahan have another Deise man in their corner, Pat Bennett. Maybe the mind-bending of sports psychologist, Jackie Cahill (inset), will tilt it Cashel’s way!

It’s not often we take a close interest in Kerry hurling but the division 2A final at Semple Stadium on Sunday last was different given the significant Tipperary involvement. We had Eamon Kelly managing the side assisted by selector Brian Horgan and even goalie coach, Brendan Cummins, managed to get his face into some of the photos. It all ended sweetly when the Kingdom came good in the second half to take the honours against John Meyler’s Carlow.

Two aspects struck me about the game. The first is the utter absurdity of a system which now sends Kerry into a play-off with Offaly to see if they can graduate to division 1B for next season. I’m not aware of such a provision in any other region of either hurling or football and it just seems to load the dice impossibly against division 2 teams. I’d love to see Kerry win that play-off but the likelihood is that they won’t. It’s a system that inevitably leads to accusations of discrimination against the lower ranked teams and it’s hard to argue with that conclusion.

Secondly who in God’s name sleep-walked into the appointment of the referee for this game? Our own Fergal Horgan took charge and by all accounts did an excellent job – even earning the commendation of the ‘Examiner’ reporter. But consider the following facts: Fergal’s cousin, Brian, is a Kerry mentor and another Kickhams’ club mate, David Butler, played corner forward for the Kingdom. I wonder was John Meyler aware of these details.

Isn’t it crazy to put a referee in such a compromised position? Then again it’s not the first curious refereeing appointment; look no further than last year’s All Ireland replay when Johnny Ryan was overlooked.

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