O se

TV channel should be high on GAA agenda

I have a dream. I want to wake up in the morning and turn on the television and kill half an hour watching a Gaelic football match from the 1980s, that glorious decade when the inter-county players weren't quite as slender and the ability to kick the ball was still prized. I want to while away an hour late that night, watching a couple of GAA journalists and former players conduct a heated "Questions and Answers" type debate about the serious issues affecting the association. In between, I'd like the chance to see whatever championship match from the previous Sunday I missed out on and was still dying to see. All of this would be possible if the GAA had its own television channel. What may sound preposterous to some is actually an idea whose time has long since come. It's fitting then that this notion has come back onto the agenda at the very same time that the association's perceived responsibility towards its unemployed members has been in the media spotlight. Aside from being the greatest promotional tool possible for the games, a channel would also create jobs and generate much-needed revenue. It won't be the easiest thing to do but it would be one of the more worthwhile initiatives and a fitting project to undertake for the second decade of the 21st century. For a forward-thinking body capable of pulling off enormous logistical challenges like building one of the finest stadia in all of Europe, the GAA has done a terrible job when it comes to the television dimension of hurling and Gaelic football. Aside from the continued and annoying failure of cameras to track the sliothar during hurling matches, the live coverage is mostly fine. It's the ancillary programs that have been too few and too inadequate. Beyond the rather-excellent "Breaking Ball" series that used to run during the championship a few years ago, the output has been largely forgettable. What set "Breaking Ball" apart was that it didn't appear infected with the "Up for the Match" sensibility that informs too much of RTE's GAA coverage. Rather than live by the old "give them the same old guff" attitude that prevents the pre-All-Ireland final shows from ever amounting to anything good, "Breaking Ball" had plenty of serious material yet also crucially managed to capture the sense of humour surrounding the games. It's a bit of a scandal that most fans regard that as about the only proper program about GAA to feature on the schedules in recent seasons. In a similar vein, it's astonishing that the introduction of Damian Lawlor's excellent "Take Your Point" radio phone-in last summer came a full two decades after English soccer began the phone-in phenomenon. Many people will carp about the cost and the viability of a GAA channel. How to fill that many hours in a day? Very easily, in fact. There are dozens of sports channels available to American consumers and they fill their schedules rather entertainingly 24/7. Using the template of something like The Golf Channel, you could start the day with a live morning show that consists of a couple of hosts sifting through the GAA stories of the day while inviting listeners to phone in with their comments and opinions, one thing the average Gaelic football and hurling aficionado has plenty of. From there you go into nostalgia programming. Rerun great games from as far back as the RTE library has footage or from the years when the geniuses in Donnybrook didn't tape over the classic All-Irelands of the sepia era with episodes of "Bosco." In the evening you have, amongst other things, a GAA news show. Sure, the news element would be a challenge during the winter months but, hey, there's always strikes, managerial changes, and annual reports to fill the fallow evenings. Not to mention too the potential for showing more of the ridiculously under-exposed secondary school and colleges' competitions. What better way to fight back against the encroaching menace of rugby than by getting the Hartys, the Sigersons and the rest the coverage they deserve? In case somebody in Croke Park hasn't noticed, children are rather smitten by the idea of being on television. A raft of school games on there on a regular basis would make playing for the school an even bigger deal than it already it is. A dedicated GAA channel could also set about making proper Gaelic football and hurling-themed shows for young kids to make the games more attractive and glamorous for them. It's the world's best recruiting device. Of course, some will carp about the cost of setting up something like this. It will cost serious money if it's done right. But it will generate serious money too. Beyond the audience in Ireland, there are the vast numbers flung out there across the world who would want to subscribe to this channel. Some of them might only be able to subscribe via their computers but that would be fine too. The technology is so good now that most ex-pats end up watching some portion of hurling or football every summer on laptops or with the computer wire hooked up to the big-screens in their living rooms. These people would be thrilled to pay a $100 a year to have access to a full raft of proper GAA programming on their computers. Unfortunately, as the numbers of emigrants swells each day, that overseas sector of the market is only going to grow too. "Obviously it [a GAA channel] would afford the opportunity of having matches archived and it could, in time, perhaps generate substantial revenue and offer a comprehensive overview of the Association's activities at the touch of a button," said Danny Murphy, secretary of the Ulster Council, raising the issue last week. "I know that websites are seen as perhaps providing this service at the moment but I believe that a GAA station catering exclusively for our games and activities would be more than welcomed now." Amen to that.

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