Looking back over the last week or so, I am very angry, and though it pains me to do so, the cause of my upset is something very close and very dear to me.
There’s a Rule in the GAA Official Guide - Rule 3.18 (a) - which deals with the ‘offence’ of ‘Bringing the Association Into Disrepute’, which basically means if you’ve nothing good to say about the GAA, then say nothing at all.
In truth, I’ve spent over 50 years working in the GAA and I’ve written hundreds, maybe thousands, of articles, reports and general items on the Gaelic Athletic Association and, hand on heart, the good of the GAA has always been my number one aim.
Why? Because since I first became a member in 1972, I realised what a brilliant organisation it was and still is and one is always slow to criticise something you love.
Last week, RTÉ’s afternoon talk show Liveline rang me for my opinions and views on the non-coverage by RTÉ television of recent major hurling championship games.
These were some of the major and I can truly say ‘iconic’ sporting fixtures in Ireland for 2023.
Last year, near neighbours Clare and Limerick produced a series of absolutely breathtaking games - brilliant hurling with All-Ireland Final-type atmosphere.
This year’s clash between the same two counties was disgracefully hidden behind what is now called a ‘broadcasting pay-wall’.
Since 1741, Cork and Tipperary hurlers have clashed and provided some thrilling encounters by the Lee and in famed Semple Stadium. This stand-out fixture was again denied to the general TV Licence paying public.
In fairness, when GAAGO was set up a few years back, I and thousands like me welcomed the initiative from the GAA. The service meant that for the first time ever, Irish people in far-flung places right across the globe were able to view GAA games.
At the time Croke Park launched the service, it was clearly stated that it would benefit the Irish diaspora and promote Gaelic games on a global scale. The service was a fee-based one, but the demand was such that it was regarded as great value for people away from their native shore.
Things rested so for a few years. Then, at some meeting or congress or media control group session, when the GAA broadcasting rights for the next few years were being sold or allocated, a new concept was arranged.
This is an absolute insult, a ‘two fingers up’ salute to hundreds of thousands of people all over this country.
Of course, many, many households now have computers, laptops, smart phones and apps and can avail of such pay per view games if they want. There are also thousands of homes with the aforementioned yokes but brutal internet coverage and no broadband, so even if they wanted to pay to see top class hurling, they cannot!
What about the homes - thousands of them also - who have a television set and no more? Houses where people who cannot get tickets for games or cannot travel to games just simply want to sit down on a Saturday night or Sunday afternoon, turn on the telly and watch the game?
Since the controversy arose, the GAA’s response has been pathetic. The promotion of hurling is not some airy fairy concept. No, it’s one of the most important core values of the GAA, yet the GAA President or Director General did not deem it important enough to come out from behind their ‘pay wall’ and answer questions or try and defend their position.
The truth is, we cannot have too much hurling on our television sets and that’s the truth, and I challenge anyone, anywhere to contradict that statement or prove me wrong.
Donal Og Cusack asked last year ‘Who is minding the game of hurling?’ - he got no answer. The former Cork and Cloyne star said recently that hurling needs the ‘oxygen’ of publicity and he’s absolutely correct.
Those that promote soccer and rugby are doing brilliant work, but the GAA is woeful.
You may say we can’t compare professional, international sports with Gaelic games - correct, but that’s all the more reason why we should demand positive discrimination for hurling as regards television coverage.
Look, I’m not attacking RTÉ here, it’s the GAA is at fault.
Remember, the All Ireland Hurling Final is eight weeks from next Sunday. After that the GAA’s idea of promoting our unique national game is to keep it off the television sets for seven months - laughable if it wasn’t disgraceful.
The three leaders of our Coalition Government all agreed last week that major hurling games should be free to air - no charge, no fees jut allow people to watch the games. They were criticised in some quarters for interfering in the GAA’s business - utter nonsense, during the Covid years when the GAA was virtually closed down, the Government gave millions to the GAA to keep it going - no-one cried foul play back then!
The Gaelic Athletic Association is there to promote Gaelic games, but to my mind is doing a terrible promotional job. This coming weekend we have some huge inter county hurling games, yet all we are hearing and reading about this week is Champions League soccer and URC rugby, and this is supposed to be the ‘high season’ for hurling.
Why haven’t the GAA a huge publicity campaign ongoing at present promoting hurling in National Schools - because of the crazy Split Season they’ll all be on holiday when the All Ireland Hurling Final is on!
The GAA was founded in 1884, yet has failed abysmally to ‘spread’ hurling all over the country.
Television and the media in general are hugely influential nowadays in promoting sport. Youngsters want heroes, they want to emulate those they see on the big screens and buy the jerseys. In the game of hurling we have a wonderful sport, in marketing terms ‘a most saleable product’, yet the GAA by their actions are preventing hundreds of thousands, young and old, from seeing and enjoying it.
All this talk of ‘building a digital viewing platform’ is just terrible nonsense. Do the GAA want to really promote our national game or not? I wonder sometimes, but if they do, the first thing they can do this week - not an ‘end of year review’ - is knock down that ‘pay wall’ and let everyone that wants to view our hurling games.
Hurling is a priceless jewel, not to be hidden but seen in all its brilliant glory. It’s no wonder I’m angry.