We're still waiting for a great modern GAA documentary

A Gaelic games version of Netflix's Drive to Survive is probably too much to hope for
We're still waiting for a great modern GAA documentary

Mercedes-AMG F1 team principal and CEO Toto Wolff (centre) with drivers Sir Lewis Hamilton (left) and Valtteri Bottas W12 E Performance. Netflix's Drive to Survive gives us some great insight into the sport.

THIS time last year, when we were all trying to adjust to that dreaded phrase “the new reality” and no live sport, Netflix came up trumps.

While the sporting calendar remains fairly bare, things aren’t as bad this time around in that we have football from around the globe – and at home here, lest we forget, with the SSE Airtricity League offering streaming packages – as well as horseracing and other elite sports.

Twelve months ago, the days flowed into one another with little to offer the usual structure of a week. Sports broadcasters showed old games but, while a delve into the archives can be okay every so often, there is a limit to the number of matches we can watch where the outcome is already known.

Then, along came The Last Dance and a reintroduction to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. While we knew that the Bulls would win titles on the screen, it was the pulling back of the curtain, and the airing of strong opinions, that made it such refreshing viewing.

Michael Jordan. Picture: Nuccio Dinuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Michael Jordan. Picture: Nuccio Dinuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

As sports nuts, we want to drill down and find what made the greats great – while Jordan might have wanted us all to think that everything he did was driven by grudges, the input from elsewhere showed just how hard he worked to be the absolute best. 

He might have needed a chip on each shoulder to do that, but the work ethic was endless.

The best documentaries are the ones where the honesty is allowed to come through rather than being varnished in a stage performance designed to play up to a reputation or – worse – a caricature. To take an example of the later, and we promise it’s in no way coloured by schadenfreude, the Tottenham Hotspur documentary All or Nothing was a bit too much a vehicle for José Mourinho to star rather than showing us how a football club is run. In case you haven’t seen it, we won’t spoil it all for you, but Spurs didn’t win it all.

By contrast, 1993’s An Impossible Job, which followed the late Graham Taylor during his ill-fated period as England manager, is arguably the gold standard by which all others are judged – the fact that his stint finished in failure probably makes for a better overall end product as pathos can never be in too much supply.

However, success on the pitch need not be an impediment to a good documentary. One of the best – and one of the first – GAA offerings is A Year ‘Til Sunday, covering Galway’s 1998 All-Ireland football win. Given that the Sam Maguire hadn’t come across the Shannon since the 1960s, it was an epochal year for the county and the 72 minutes manage to capture a raw desire and dedication that you fear wouldn’t be present in a modern production, which would be overly polished. A Year ‘Til Sunday is available on YouTube and we would highly recommend it.

A drawback from the point of view of a film-maker seeking to come up with something similar to The Last Dance with a GAA bent is the fact that Ireland is too small for real egos to come to the fore. You can’t act like a superstar when you’re surrounded by those who remember you wetting your pants in primary school and, ultimately, that’s a good thing.

In an ideal world, we would have something in the vein of Drive to Survive, another Netflix offering, focusing on Formula 1 and the third season of which has just been released. F1 is an industry powered by a lot of money – and no doubt Netflix have ponied up plenty for their access – but the makers have managed to walk the tightrope of getting close to the stars but also giving them enough space to show us their real selves.

Underlying tensions are given vocal expression in a way that might not happen in a press conference and we see the vulnerabilities of these millionaires. Ultimately, that’s what we want, to an extent – confirmation that they exist in a world somewhat similar to our own.

Given the levels of paranoia prevalent among some players and managers, a no-holds-barred GAA documentary is probably too much to dream of, but we can hope.

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