SINCE Sky Sports began broadcasting Gaelic Games I’ve meant to do a review of their coverage for the paper.
Trouble is – like most people – I don’t have Sky Sports at home so this isn’t what you’d call timely. It took until last weekend to make it to the nearest friendly house with Sky, two buggies and a bag of Doritos in tow.
What have I been missing? Nothing that would encourage me to wire one penny from my account to theirs. It’s chronic. Uncompelling TV. Forgettable. No stars.
I approached their coverage willing to be impressed. I’ve written about my distaste for the Sky deal and, in particular, its bogus promotion as “the emigrants’ deal” but that is a separate matter to the product itself.
Perhaps product is the wrong word, but that is what this feels like; something you see on the shopping channel, bright-eyed sellers thrusting the latest in sponge technology at the lens, telling you that this is what your life has been missing and we are the people to give it to you. In the case of Gaelic games on TV, these are not the people that should be doing the giving.
Before we try to explain why, a minor aside about hair. Are anchors Rachel Wyse and Brian Carney trying to take the piss out of their senior analyst Peter ‘The Great’ Canavan? It seems for all the satellite-orbiting world to be the case.
There’s Peter the Great, bald as the day he was born, and then we have Rachel Wyse, who looked like she dried her hair by sticking it out the sunroof of the taxi to Jones’s Road.
If that wasn’t enough, Carney, who stands at the other side of the screen while Canavan pushes buttons and does the Gary Neville bit, has a luxuriant black mane. He’s like Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid exploring a wonderful new world of breaking ball, bainisteoirs with media bans and black card controversies.
Mercifully, Senan Connell doesn’t join the Whitesnake tribute act. He keeps to the normal GAA style of “if it moves, chop it.” Impressive buzzcut.
Apart from her hair and her good looks (are you allowed to say that without being labelled sexist?) there is nothing remarkable about Wyse’s presence. David Bowie’s line is apt. “I’ve never done good things, I’ve never done bad things, I’ve done anything out of the blue.”
Her questions aren’t bad, but they’re not good either. In fact, as soon as the ads begin, I can’t remember any of them. Nor can I remember any of the debate she is supposed to have sparked.
In her defence, she is hardly any worse than Michael Lyster or Des Cahill at RTE. Both of these will, criminally, try to stifle a row that has broken out on their watch.
Wyse didn’t do this – at least over the two games I’ve seen her anchor. But then a half-decent ruckus over some theory or point of order never once developed. This is entirely depressing; Huxley’s Brave New World brought to bear somewhere between the Hogan Stand and Canal End.
Canavan and Connell are definitely high on the soma of saying nothing real at all. Connell is a slogan-spewing machine. He’s like one of those kids' toys that’s been wound up and won’t stop. The video rolls and he’s away. “Off-the-ball-running. Man in space. Options. Big player. Man off the shoulder. Coming at pace. Picks his spot. Clinical finish. Hammer blow. Quality.”
In Canavan, we are the victims of false reasoning that a great player makes for a great pundit. I don’t know how many ex-players it’s going to take to disprove this theory that inhabits every TV sport, Canavan is but the latest example.
Put it simply. Does he know his stuff? Yes, better perhaps than anybody on the planet.
Can he communicate that knowledge in an informative and entertaining manner for the TV viewers? No.
He is monotone and comes across as nervous, which is slightly unbelievable to all of us who watched him nail pressure free after pressure free (the 2005 AI semi-final winner in stoppage time being the most obvious example).
Playing football and working in a TV studio are different disciplines, though, and being superb at one doesn’t mean you’re going to be any use at the other.
Canavan really doesn’t hit it off with the video machine thingy. Fair enough, he knows how to work the buttons, which is no easy feat, but honestly, it’s nearly all bullshit. He spent a lot of time pausing and pointing and highlighting and talking and I learnt that Dublin players work hard, run off the ball a lot and are good at winning primary possession. All stuff everybody already knows already.
To compound what we already know we are given reams of statistics, many of which have questionable value. At half-time we saw that possession between Dublin and Monaghan was 50-50. Didn’t seem credible. Dublin were nine points up and all over them. Makes you wonder how they arrived at this stat.
When Dublin scored (which happened a lot), then Rory Beggan kicked the ball out. So is the ball travelling in the air counted as Monaghan possession? Because it shouldn’t be, they are not in control. Likewise any time the ball flew off a Monaghan boot and travelled over 20 yards it seemed as likely to result in Dublin possession.
Another one is the ratio of scores-to-scoring chances. That’s held up as an example of teams’ ability to be clinical. But there’s a big difference between a half-a-yard of space and sight at goals 45m out, kicking into the wind and a fella punching over from eight metres.
We live in a sporting age where stats are revered just for the sake of being stats. There should be a greater effort made to separate good information from bad. A lot of these stats are rudimentary at best.
What the Dublin-Monaghan analysis called for was for someone to say, “Stop the video. This game was awful wasn’t it? No contest at all…”
Then we could have enjoyed a wider discussion about where the match stood in relation to the sporting world in which we live.
Are Dublin at a huge advantage? Here’s one stat I would have liked to have been told: how many full-time coaches paid by the GAA work in Dublin and how many work in Monaghan? How many is that per head of population?
There is a theory that Dublin are hovering up resources while the provinces get left behind. Is that true? Is it a myth? Let’s have some good information about that ... Find a yard of space in the congested area, look up and switch the play, that’s something Canavan could do effortlessly on the field but nobody can manage it in the Sky studio.
The man who I had highest hopes for was Carney. Paul Kimmage interviewed him in the Sunday Independent a couple of months back and he came across as a really interesting guy; somebody who had lived a life and was capable of thinking original thoughts and challenging the consensus.
There was no sign of that guy last weekend. He was just another slightly frantic salesman shining up shite and calling it gold.
I don’t know where that nervous energy comes from but it permeates the whole studio. Perhaps it’s because Sky have paid their money and now these guys feel like they have to make it a success. But they are trying too hard and not trying hard enough.
They all get on like they are going for a work lunch – not with colleagues, with people from another firm who you have to develop some kind of “relationship” with, going forward. Everybody’s on their best behaviour. There’s no easy banter. No genuine thoughts expressed. No passionate differences of opinion.
It all feels way too much like work on Sky Sports 3. And that’s not something I want in my living room (okay somebody else’s living room) on a Saturday evening.
I suggest that Rupert’s HR department take these four on a go-karting trip or lock them in a bar from 8pm-3am, as long as it takes for them to relax in each other’s company. Then perhaps they can talk about Gaelic games like confident adults rather than frightened youngsters.
But there is little hope of that happening. The idea that Sky have a history of producing excellent sports analysis is up there next to the “emigrants deal” on the bullshitometer.
Consider their Premier League coverage. Nevermind a couple of extra camera angles, for decades Richard Keys and Andy Gray were the intellectual driving forces of a production that had a less than modern world view.
Their stellar reputation now is largely down to the intervention of the excellent Gary Neville. He has delivered insight and honesty to a viewership that has long been denied such respects to their intelligence.
In Ireland, we’re used to Dunphy and Hook and Brolly and Spillane getting stuck in and speaking their minds. Even if you’re one of the many people who sees these characters are grandstanding old-timers, hungry for notoriety and not in the business of providing sensible comment, you cannot say they are boring. And being boring is the last thing a television show can afford to be.
Ultimately, that’s the region Sky’s coverage inhabits. Worse than that, it’s soulless – something not even the GAA’s staunchest critics could accuse the organisation of being.
Though when you consider some of the acts of the sports' increasingly corporate hierarchy, you wonder if they at least have found their natural bedfellows. Guys in shiny suits, out there on a bandwidth that not too many people get.