There are things about the GAA that are almost impossible to explain to people from outside Ireland. No matter how you try to spin it, they can't quite get certain aspects of the association. Of course, they baulk at the players not being paid, scratch their heads upon discovering that four of the officials involved in championship matches are usually just buddies of the referee, and do a double-take when you inform them a talented teenager wanting to switch clubs must spent the guts of two years sitting on the sidelines in order to do so. All of these quirks are what make the GAA different, unique, and, in a time of complete globalization, something that remains quintessentially ours.
To that list of oddities then, and the litany above is by no means definitive, we can add that the GAA is now, apparently, a place where inter-county managers feel they have the right to dictate who covers their games. The intervention by Mickey Harte et al into RTE politics on behalf of Brian Carthy would be funny if it wasn't so offensive. In a move ripped straight from a lost script for the RTE's 1970s satirical show "Hall's Pictorial Weekly," Harte has taken it upon himself to demand Carthy be given higher-profile games than he's been receiving to this point in the championship. You couldn't make this stuff up.
The best part is Harte is claiming that he and several managers will not participate in post-match interviews if RTE don't do as they have requested and restore Carthy (who knew he was so highly-rated, certainly not those of us who've ever endured his commentary) to his perceived rightful place. As threats go, this is not exactly one designed to speed anybody into action. Nobody, not a single person, tunes in for the post-match interviews. Why? Because most of the time, the managers (or the players for that matter) never say anything of note. Indeed, they specialize in horsing out inanities and clichés designed specifically not to cause offence to the team they've either just defeated or lost to. It would spare everybody a whole lot of bother if we dispensed with this ritual altogether.
Now, even though Harte's threat is more of a promise (please, please, no more post-match clichés!), the substance of what he's done here is actually worth considering. Imagine if Noel Curran, the Director General of RTE, sent a letter to Harte demanding that he start Owen Mulligan in the forthcoming Ulster championship semi-final against Cavan or Donegal. Picture the scene if Harte had to read a lengthy missive in which Curran (a Monaghan man so at least he knows something of Ulster football) outlined why Mulligan just had to be promoted from the subs' bench or the national broadcaster might have to consider not sending cameras to that game.
Of course, that sounds completely preposterous. What would Curran know about Mulligan's form in training? How privy could somebody in Dublin be to the goings-on inside the Tyrone camp this past few months? It's a lunatic idea to think a guy in Donnybrook could tell the Tyrone boss what he should and shouldn't do. It's no less lunatic than Harte thinking he knows what's best for RTE Sport and for those of us who sometimes rely heavily on radio commentaries. What makes him specially qualified to campaign on behalf of one commentator over another? Has he heard the other guys? Does he know why RTE are promoting them ahead of Carthy? Aren't they entitled to make subjective judgments like that, you know, being his employer and all that?
After all, when evaluating commentary and punditry, beauty is in the eye and ear of the beholder. One man's pleasure is another man's Dunphy.
Now is a good time to point out that, like everybody else ever forced to endure its service, this column believes RTE to be a seriously flawed organisation. It's an institution that might easily be trimmed down to one television channel and one radio station without any great loss to our national culture. And, while some feel they do sport well, anybody who's ever watched ESPN's coverage of lacrosse or baseball will wonder why hurling matches remain such a difficult watch on RTE.
In the dim and distant past, I co-produced some television documentaries for RTE. While most of the people I worked with were absolutely fantastic professionals, some of the suits, in particular the genius of Donnybrook who asked us why there wasn't more about David Beckham in a documentary we did about Denis Irwin (no seriously), had to be heard to be believed. All of the above makes it difficult to admit however that here is a time we should all stand beside RTE.
Mickey Harte is a great GAA man and his handling of his daughter's tragic death earlier this year was way beyond admirable. However, in this instance, he has overstepped the mark by some distance. It's not his business or that of any other inter-county player or manager to tell RTE how to run its affairs. What happens if RTE caves on this occasion? Next time anybody in Donnybrook is unhappy with their lot, they just have call up their celebrity friends in the sport or entertainment world and get them to threaten to withdraw co-operation.
Against this background, it's only right and proper that Christy Cooney and Croke Park came out the other day and told Harte and his pals to stick to managing their teams, and reminded them that part of bossing any county is promoting the games in a proper fashion through media interviews. Getting involved in stuff that is best left to union negotiators and employment appeals tribunals actually brings the games into disrepute. With the championship in full swing, that so many column inches are being devoted to a very public version of debates that go on in the RTE canteen every day is a dreadful waste of space.