Sky deal in the best interest of Irish in Britain

Sky deal in the best interest of Irish in Britain


THE furore that has followed Sky Sports winning limited rights to televise games from the All-Ireland football and hurling championship has generated a lot of heat but very little light.

Much of the debate has served only to muddle and distract from what I think is a straightforward and sensible decision by the GAA in the best interests of the organisation and all its members.

The GAA is a national organisation. That's different to being an Ireland-only organisation. The nation extends far beyond the Antrim Coast or the Dingle Peninsula. It is present in Irish communities in Britain, America, Australia, Asia and Europe - everywhere across the world. And it manifests itself when Irish people express their cultural identity through the pursuit of their national games. The fastest growth areas for the GAA are outside Ireland in new and established emigrant communities where 302 clubs now exist, and are being founded everywhere from Beijing to a Barcelona.

Three years ago, I was approached by a group of lads who were born in North London but whose parents were from Clare, Mayo, Tyrone and Dublin. They had grown up immersed in the Irish community but had been bereft of a Gaelic football club since the Holloway Gaels folded during the downturn in emigration in the late 1990s.

They wanted to do something about it and asked me to help. And since then I've been Chairman of our club - Éire Óg - with one men's football team, no pitch, no club premises and a parish that covers Camden, Islington, Hackney and Haringey.

We've struggled for three years to establish ourselves and relied on a small group of individuals who have begged and borrowed, hooked and crooked, and put in the time, effort and a lot of their own brass to keep us afloat. The same people arranged training, collected the subs, washed the kit, sorted the transport and tried to get a few pounds together to make sure we survived. And with the help of a few good men and women, we built the club from nothing to a position now where we are standing on our own two feet with a solid financial base and an ambitious development strategy, and the makings of a decent team and a successful club. We're building it and passing it on, just like those who came before us, to promote and sustain Gaelic games for future generations.

It's a case of cause and effect. Last year, London's footballers reached a Connacht Final. London GAA is redeveloping its headquarters to make it a home for Gaelic games in Britain to last for generations. Our games are being played in schools where most of the pupils have never heard of Ireland never mind been there.

So what would it say to the Gaels of Britain if the GAA had continued to allow the bizarre situation where the proper coverage of the elite levels of our games - the All Ireland Football and Hurling Championships - wasn't available to us, and we weren't factored in to any arrangement for broadcasting them? What would it say about the GAA if they didn't take the opportunity to showcase our games here in Britain and across the world at a time when rugby and soccer, and even cricket - three sports I admire and enjoy - are driving ahead with the promotion of their respective games in Ireland? What would it say about the GAA if it valued people more because of where they are rather than what they do?

There will be 45 hurling and football championship games broadcast live. There will be almost twice as many played. So a lot of people won't see their county's game or games televised full stop. 31 of 45 will be free on RTÉ to everyone in Ireland and The Sunday Game will show highlights. I'll have to pay to watch those games either by subscribing to Premier Sports (which I do at the minute to watch a limited amount of National League and Club Championship games) or via the new web-player. Or, I can go to the pub, which I might do on occasion even with the subscription. It would seem to me that a similar choice is available to people in Ireland for the 14 games of which Sky have exclusive coverage, which I'll also have to pay to watch. The other six games that Sky are showing, including the showpieces of the GAA year in our All-Ireland Finals, will be broadcast to millions of Irish people overseas who will pay to watch them, but also be free to watch on RTÉ for those living in Ireland. I think, on balance, that's fair.

I believe in our Association and I'm confident about its future. I know that it is rooted in service to the community, whether that's in Camloch or in Camden. I'm proud to be giving freely to the GAA in London what the GAA gave freely to me growing up in Armagh. That volunteer ethos of the Association is thriving. It is going from strength to strength, across the world, where Gaels live the values they hold true every time they pull on their new club's jersey or meet to cheer on their home county. The best days are ahead. And if you don't believe me, come and see a London club game in Ruislip this summer. And then watch the match from Croke Park live on Sky Sports in the clubhouse afterwards.