Why Eir Sport and TG4 are the best channels to watch GAA on

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So what did you do last Saturday then? Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a GAA fan, so you may have been watching the rip-roaring All-Ireland club hurling semi-final between Na Piarsaigh and Slaughtneil on TG4, where Shane Dowling scored one of the all time great goals. And if you tuned into that, you may have also viewed the other semi-final on the same station, between Cuala and Liam Mellows, where the South Dublin side continued their run towards a two in a row.

If you were in the mood for further GAA action after that, and you had access to more than 4 stations, you could have switched over to Eir Sport, where Paddy McBrearty was giving an exhibition of forward play in Donegal’s brave, but albeit, in vain effort, against Dublin in the National football league in Croke Park. Or maybe if you were feeling a little bit more patriotic (!) you could have watched the Ireland Italy rugby game on TV3, and the subsequent bore fest between England and Wales on the same station.

What if you tuned into RTE though? Well unless you were interested in watching an hour of the Winter Olympics at 6.30, there was nothing else to tickle your fancy sportswise. And if you’re looking for some live hurling or football, the only chance of a GAA personality strutting his stuff on RTE this spring, is Marty Morrissey showing off his dancing skills!

Now I’ve long extolled the virtues of TG4 as the best station to watch our national games on (http://sportstalk.ie/5237-2/) but it just may be the case that they have a rival station to compete with it for quality GAA coverage. Since they started showing National League games last year, Eir Sport have been a delight. They’ve shown nine league games, either deferred or live, in the past three weeks, and many of them have been hugely entertaining.

For years RTE have argued against showing any live GAA from mid September to Mid May on the basis that “nobody would be interested in watching it”. Paradoxically though, you could argue that most of the best GAA action happens in the off broadway season. From All-Ireland club championships, to the Fitzgibbon Cup, the amount of quality GAA action waiting to be televized speaks for itself.

We’ve already argued that the league is the best competition that the GAA has in it’s locker for a number of reasons (http://sportstalk.ie/isnt-league-championship/): Teams are playing every week, in their home grounds ,against sides of similar quality. Is that not a much more attractive proposition to watch than the likes of Dublin or Kerry hammering whoever they come up against in the first round of the championship? Not so, according to RTE. Sure, they do give us a half hour of League Sunday highlights, but when you compare it to the other stations, that really is a pittance.

Now of course, whenever you do discuss GAA television coverage, the elephant in the room is the infamous “Sky Deal”. Michael Duignan came on the Second Captains podcast last week to argue his point against pay per view television in the organization, and speak about the petition that has been started by him, Diarmuid Lyng and Joe Brolly, in order to stop the model.

Now I love Michael Duignan. He’s the best hurling analyst on television or Radio bar none, and he has a passion for our game that outstrips almost every other person in the country. But if he is trying to bat on behalf of RTE on the issue of GAA coverage, and argue against pay per view, then he’s standing on very shaky ground.

Michael’s argument, that the introduction of Sky to the market of showing live GAA is a step towards overt commercialisation, may have some merit, but it ignores the fact that RTE is a business too. It’s just not a very well run one. We may not have to pay a subscription fee for the station, but we still have to pay a TV licence charge of 160 euro each year. Even with that amount, and subsidies from the government, the company makes a loss of around 20 million per year.

It’s not hard to see why that might be the case, when they pay Ryan Tubridy half a million a year to host a live Hen/Stag party on a Friday night in February (also known as the Late Late Valentines show) and give Marian Finucane hundreds of thousands of euro a year to do 4 hours of work on the radio at the weekend. Millions more are blown on expensive imported programmes. So it’s not like RTE doesn’t have money. They just don’t spend it very wisely.

They may like to think of themselves as being the pulse of the nation, but really, they only pay lip service to our games for months and months of the year. Meanwhile over on Eir Sport you can watch high quality GAA action each week around this time, such as Offaly’s best hurling win in Croke Park in decades against Dublin. You can see games every Saturday night of the Spring, as well as other county finals from across the country throughout the autumn and winter. TG4 have been doing similar for years, on a fraction of the RTE budget.

And sure you may argue that the viewership for games on Sky are lower than those on RTE, but a lot of the times the games that are being shown on Sky, would not have been shown on our national broadcaster anyway. So while you can say that our national games shouldn’t be on a pay per view station, there’s an equally valid counter-argument, that for a hardcore GAA lover, the money you pay for Eir or even Sky is much better value than what you get from RTE.

We can squabble all day long over whether pay per view has any place in our “amateur” organization but what can’t be disputed is that for 8 months of the year, from September to May, the quality and quantity of GAA coverage on Eir Sport and TG4, is infinitely greater than what Montrose is showing. So if RTE want to stop people paying money to other stations, to watch our national games on television, there’s a simple way they can do it: Show us more GAA!

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