Louth's Declan Byrne and Colm Basquel of Dublin during the 2017 O'Byrne Cup final at the Gaelic Grounds, Drogheda. (Pic: Arthur Kinahan)
The buzz was real as a Louth supporter at 11:15pm or thereabouts last Sunday week. Having landed home from Wexford just a matter of hours earlier, a groove was made on the couch for The Sunday Game. The done thing after the annual pilgrimage.
Eamon Donoghue had just narrated over highlights of Louth’s five-point victory, while Wayne Kierans and Paul McLoughlin, the respective managers, had given their views. Snippets from Kildare and Wicklow’s tussle at the same Leinster stage were shown subsequently and then we were into the analysis segment.
With Tómas Ó Sé and Joe Brolly in situ, angst developed inside as one awaited their appraisal of Louth’s victory, but it never came. The pair, with Des Cahill at the wheel, immediately dived into the tackle with Kildare. They must have spoken about Cian O’Neill’s charges for two or three minutes.
At this stage, having been up early that morning and with blank pages of The Democrat calling me from the other room, the clock was met with several stares. Des was going to have to blow the full-time whistle before half-11 and we were nearly at that juncture.
And, duly, Louth’s chance eventually came. What was Joe going to say? How would Tómas view the job Kierans and co are doing? No. “Well done Louth. They had a very good National League and followed it up with a great victory today… I’m afraid time has beaten us…” said Des, in as many words, as the summer’s first screening of the iconic programme closed.
Cutting edge stuff, blah, blah, blah. Even the BBC could have managed more than that and you’re just lucky to see the end of the match with them.
Instead of casting his eye over Louth’s victory, which was arguably the day’s greatest comeback, Joe had expended air-time in a previous section of the football debate on the need for not only a ‘B’ championship, but a ‘C’ one too.
Given the gulf that’s developing between teams on the inter-county platform, he has a point, but through The Sunday Game’s ignorance and disrespect of Louth in their analysis and coverage, Joe’s argument was shot to smithereens. If this is how the weaker counties are treated when they’re involved in the same competition as Dublin and the rest, how much worse would their exposure be if they were inferior in grade as well?
Leitrim are one of the counties canvassing most vigorously for a second football tier, and yet their pasting at the hands of Roscommon got a decent level of screening time.
All the while, during the broadcast’s hurling period, results from the various other All-Ireland competitions shot up on the screen, but were gone quicker than some of the 100m sprinters from Jamaica. They were almost indigestible, Louth’s Nicky Rackard Cup defeat to Sligo included.
Is this a view to what a divided football championship would resemble? However disappointing RTÉ’s display of the Louth/Wexford game was, at the very least, they showed a series of clips and Des wished us well. What of the Louth hurlers?
Or, going by the national broadcaster’s attitude, do Louth even play hurling? They may as well not even exist.
Brolly’s idea that all the All-Ireland finals could be played on the one day is fanciful, because if we’ve learned anything from the GAA in recent decades, it’s that commercial success and maximising revenue are foremost on the list of priorities.
Dick Clerkin says All-Ireland final day is “no place for an eight-year-old”. Sure couldn’t the same be said of Louth or Westmeath or Wexford or Cavan or Roscommon or, or, or? It’s about Mayo vs Dublin, Dublin vs Kerry, Kerry vs Tyrone, Galway vs Donegal - and likely the same teams in the minor decider beforehand.
Playing at Croke Park on the first Sunday of September, four hours before the main event, in a ‘C’ final with an eerily empty atmosphere and, ultimately, a lack of meaning... the U10s running about at half-time of the senior fare would be better received.
The ladies’ structure was also pointed to as a blueprint for how vibrant a tiered championship could be, with teams playing opponents of a similar standard. But, from experience, although the ladies’ finals’ day has been a major success, down at the lower reaches, crowds are sparse and coverage - again - is minimal.
Take the gathering at Louth’s hurling opener against Sligo, apart from players’ families and the dozen or so die-hard Gaels, there was a dog running about the bank with its owner. Ten years down the line, will that be the turnout for Louth’s ‘C’ championship quarter-final against Waterford, too?
While Louth, as a county, are fairly irrelevant on the inter-county scene across the board, we are certainly best placed to assess the merits of winning a second grade crown, having done so on both of the occasions the GAA tried to introduce such a competition.
In 1997, Louth won the All-Ireland ‘B’ title, defeating Clare in Ballinasloe before a crowd of a few hundred. And nobody really gave a damn that they had. In 2006, Eamonn McEneaney’s Reds claimed Tommy Murphy Cup honours, overcoming Leitrim at HQ before the infamous All-Ireland semi-final between Dublin and Mayo. Of all the things that Paddy Keenan has won in his career, I wonder does he even know where his Murphy medal is?
If Joe or any of his comrades appear on The Sunday Game this weekend, they’ll likely begin serenading about how Louth shouldn’t be in the same competition as Dublin, after the latter win Saturday evening’s clash in Portlaoise?
There is a silver lining, I suppose. At least the Reds will get some real air-time on Sunday night? The Dubs are the Dubs. Like the kettle calling the pot black, GAA President John Horan said recently that RTÉ were driven by numbers in the games they choose to screen, so the Boys in Blue will be front and centre of the highlights package because, sure everyone likes the Dubs!
They’ll be shown running whole-hearted Louth lads into the ground and interviewed afterwards where they’ll be magnanimous in victory. It’ll hardly make pleasant viewing as a Louth man, but it seems that’s the only way us Wee fellas will get a chance on the telly.
Sure who’s interested in watching Louth winning?
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