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06th Sep 2016

RTE’s pundits keep banging the same old drum, but Sky’s don’t have a drum at all

Colm Parkinson


“It’s like people speak about intensity as if it’s something negative about it. It’s a hugely positive thing. It’s probably what allows you to express yourself as a hurler. In terms of intensity, all you expect is that everybody gives everything they have really.”

That was Brian Cody giving an intensity tutorial ahead of the All Ireland hurling final.

I’m not sure who exactly talks negatively about intensity in hurling circles, it seems to be the answer to everything regarding hurling tactics and analysis.

Before the All Ireland final on Sunday, Michael Lyster turned to King Henry Shefflin, the greatest hurler of all time, for some analysis. Brilliant I thought, Henry shared a dressing room with these fellas; he knows what Kilkenny focus on when they play Tipperary. He knows where Tipperary’s weaknesses are. Are their corner backs suspect under a high ball? Did Galway expose some weaknesses in their midfield?

Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Tipperary 22/5/2016 Tipperary vs Cork RTE Sunday Game panelists Henry Shefflin and Ger Loughnane Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

What did we get? A few tackling clips where he told us Tipperary need to match Kilkenny’s intensity.

I could have gone into any pub around the ground and any punter who could have told me the same thing. You don’t need to be an ex-player, paid to give viewers some insight, to tell me that.

But they weren’t finished there.

Next up was Liam Sheedy, Tipperary’s brilliant All-Ireland-winning manager, the man who stopped Kilkenny winning the five-in-a-row, with a brilliant performance, in 2010. Like Henry he shared a dressing room with many of the Tipperary lads, would know how they approach a game against Kilkenny, who they might target, what tactics Kilkenny might use.

Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Quarter-Final Replay, O'Connor Park, Tullamore, Offaly 6/6/2015 Dublin vs Galway RTE's Liam Sheedy Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/James Crombie

Instead we got some footage on Kilkenny titled ‘Kings of intensity’. I nearly threw the remote at the television.

I don’t need to be told the most intense team will win because all things being equal, that’s exactly what will happen. This intensity analysis is my only issue with hurling pundits. I love their passion, and their positivity towards their game is great. Surely someone on the production team can point them in the right direction?

The intensity analysis they show us is usually forwards working really hard to win the ball back. Teams’ defence starting at number 15, forwards trying to win turnovers and getting handy scores out of it. Maybe this is a new enough phenomenon in hurling and warrants analysis but it’s been around since 2003 in Gaelic football.

Not surprisingly, what would constitute some quality ‘intensity’ analysis with the hurling pundits was called ‘puke football’ by Pat Spillane. That’s the difference between the RTE hurling and football pundits, they occupy both ends of the spectrum – one endlessly positive, the other endlessly negative.

GAA Football All Ireland Senior Championship Qualifier Series Round 1A 21/6/2014 Laois vs Fermanagh The RTE panel of Pat Spillane, Colm O'Rourke and Michael Lyster look on Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer

What would Joe Brolly or Spillane have said about Brian Cody, who stood by and watched his full-back line be dismantled, conceding 2-15 from play, without making a change? I don’t care how many All Irelands Brian’s won, it wouldn’t be pretty.

Actually, Brolly is currently waging war on Eamonn Fitzmaurice, a manager who won an All Ireland against all the odds in 2014 and who was just narrowly beaten by Dublin in an all-time classic. Why? Because he had the temerity to play a sweeper against the best team in the country.

Joe obviously thinks Eamonn should have left his full-back line wide open to Dublin’s excellent full-forward line. It’s almost like Joe has no idea how playing against a superior team works. And if Dublin were as courageous as Joe thinks, why not push Cian O’Sullivan up on the Kerry sweeper and really go for it? Because Jim Gavin isn’t stupid either so he leaves Cian to sweep on the other side. Joe really does live in cloud-cuckoo land sometimes.

I’m pretty sure Kieran McGeeney left his full-back line exposed when he was Kildare manager, got hammered by Dublin, then got hammered by the pundits for not playing a sweeper. The older RTE football pundits are negative just for the sake of it.

Of course I could switch over to Sky, who have the best stable of pundits in the country. There are no egos over there. It should be great but it’s not. It’s dull, scripted and boring.

There is an obvious problem in that Rachel Wyse and Brian Carney are not GAA people. They are not believable to me as GAA people either. If they try to act excited about the match I just think they’re working. That distance could be an asset, yet whenever I watch them, I find myself desperate for them to point the conversation in a certain direction, but they never do. That’s if we’re lucky enough to have a debate and they all stop agreeing with each other.

Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Quarter-Final 7/6/2014 Kilkenny vs Offaly Sky Sports presenters, Rachel Wyse, Ollie Canning, Brian Carney and Peter Canavan in the TV studio Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Peter Canavan and Jamesie O’Connor both do well at what is a really difficult gig at half-time. Picking out interesting clips in a limited amount of time is really difficult. There is no need for in depth video analysis at half-time. There is just not enough time to have a bit of entertaining discussion and some more serious video analysis. That type of video analysis is better suited to a Monday night football show.

The script, and it is all scripted, goes something like this. Senan Connell and Jim McGuinness get a question each, asked by Rachel. No time for discussion because Rachel has to throw over to Brian at the tactics TV, who then prompts Peter to begin. Peter uses all sorts of unnecessary arrows, highlights and circles to explain his point. Back to Jim and Senan who will agree with Peter and then Rachel throws to ads. Again I don’t blame any of the pundits, I’ve worked with Senan a lot and Peter too and they’re great. It’s a Sky production issue.

Punditry is a difficult one to get right. It’s impossible to please everyone, especially me. Punters want entertainment, debate, fair critique and tactical analysis all rolled into one. Maybe intensity is actually the way to go.

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