THE weekend just passed was probably a first for many of us – the first time in living memory that a whole GAA fixture-list was wiped out.
While work often means that we are out of the house on a Sunday afternoon, there are occasions when it’s possible to sit in and watch a league double-header on TG4 while typing away on other assignments.
Last Sunday, the schedulers did do their best to entice the regular audience with the inclusion of the Lar Corbett edition of the new series of Laochra Gael but it was certainly strange to then see it followed by The Big Country, a 1958 western starring Gregory Peck – according to an Empire magazine poll, the 187th-best film of all-time.
Of course, with little on-field action, that’s not that much for columnists to write about, so it’s for occasions just like this that we go to the special drawer in the office and take out The List, the one headed ‘Column ideas for quiet days’.
Something we’ve always lamented is the lack of an enduring, high-quality GAA magazine. As someone who enjoys football of the association variety, When Saturday Comes is a monthly staple and we are lucky to have appeared in its pages, while World Soccer remains authoritative on the game beyond the echo chamber that is the Premier League.
Golf World is another semi-regular on the shopping list and we’ve even bought Rugby World once or twice. Obviously, the three sports have more of a global reach than Gaelic games, but you would like to think that a GAA version or similar would survive on its own merits. Unfortunately, artistic endeavour doesn’t always equal a commercial success.
Titles have come and gone. High Ball has probably come closest to getting the mix right in the modern era but always seemed to be a bit short on quality content, while the GPA-backed Cúlsport had potential but didn’t have staying power.
Hogan Stand certainly had the endurance but layout left it down and was somewhat flat with the features, but it had a good enough presence on the ground to be able to continually attract advertising. On perusing the website, there doesn’t appear to be any mention of a magazine nowadays and it looks to just be a portal for GAA news, often taken second-hand from national papers, something which is to the constant chagrin of the Irish Examiner’s John Fogarty.
Sliotar Magazine was an online-only hurling publication which had some interesting articles but it didn’t last and Cornerback, the retro GAA mag, also looks to be on hiatus. First published in the winter of 2014/15, the sixth issue came out in the summer of 2016 and while it’s well put-together with lots to entice those interest in history, availability and a cover price of €6.99 meant it didn’t take off as well as was hoped.
So it was too for what was, in our view, the doyen of GAA magazines in the 21st century. It makes us feel old now that the publishing run of Breaking Ball, an off-shoot of the TV show of the same name, was a decade and a half ago.
Such is the high level of journalism – featuring the likes of Michael Moynihan, Denis Walsh, Seán Moran, Brendan O’Brien and others – that we regularly come back to it.
It provided a perfect combination of the serious the light. Take as an example the March 2003 issue – there was a top ten feature on ‘eternal students’, those who enjoyed long Fitzgibbon and Sigerson Cup careers; a look back at the 1989 Tony Keady affair; Kildare star Glen Ryan picking the best 15 of his lifetime; a long read on Mayo’s Ciarán McDonald, speaking to those who knew him best; Joe Brolly wondering if Colin Corkery was really a great; a feature on Ben and Jerry O’Connor making hurleys; a look at players’ image rights and the concerns therein; and then two pages of frivolity, examining the design of the Leitrim crest and finding out how Monaghan’s Eugene ‘Nudie’ Hughes got his nickname.
All of that for €3 at the time was excellent value and its loss is something we still lament, but obviously it just wasn’t popular enough elsewhere.
With print media’s advertising options decreasing ever further, has the window of opportunity for a great GAA magazine been and gone?