Sporting Advent Calendar #13: Sky falls in on GAA

Eamon Donoghue recalls the growing pains endured by satellite broadcaster on first forays in Gaelic Games

Bewilderment; can be summed up by a British tweeter's attempts at watching the debut of Gaelic Games on Sky Sports last summer.

“Is this rugby meets football meets basketball meets quidditch?”

The tweeter was clearly struggling to take in his first experience of Gaelic football, and those tuning in to the hurling for the first-time could barely believe their eyes.

“Watching hurling on sky it’s like something from the mad Max films.”

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The aim of the new three-year deal with the British broadcaster was to increase the GAA’s worldwide audience and accessibility to the Diaspora, and it proved largely to be a success.

The Twitter reaction of the bewildered British onlookers throughout the summer was a highlight in itself; stretching from Premier League soccer players such as - surprise, surprise - Mr Twitter himself Joey Barton, to the average sports punters, showing an increased awareness and respect for the skill and passion of our games was no doubt achieved.

With initial fears that its introduction could become the catalyst for civil war among the GAA community - the traditionalists v the revolutionaries - in the end Sky Sports made it through all the debate.

Yet from the banners and planned protests which surrounded its ordination in Nowlan park last June, to enduring the awkward moments when Peter Canavan tried his best to dissect the game for the most simple of sports laymen, and not forgetting the post-debut litany of live hiccups - it certainly wasn't the seamless transition the British broadcaster would have hoped for.

Sky Sports News presenter Jim White kicked off their coverage with a report on Mayo's opening match in New York last May. 'Sillian O'Connor', not twice Young Footballer of the Year Cillian, was amongst the goal scorers in that game. While their reporters also had particular difficulties getting to grips with the pronunciation of the word 'Connacht'.

The gaffes were somehow kept to a minimum from then onwards.

Yes, they may not have attained the new broadcasting heights many expected, but they certainly brought a fresh approach; some fancy touch screen analysis, ala Monday Night Football, and Jamesie O’Connor’s slick three-piece suits standing out. Their very existence even forced the Sunday Game to readdress their approach, slightly.

Such was their diligence that, regardless of whether or not rewriting history was part of their brief, Sky Sports GAA still managed to lift the curse off the Mayo footballers, deeming them as All-Ireland champions for the 2013 season, a highlight of their so-called Gaelic Games explainer. If only it was that simple for the Westerners.

With some elocution lessons and maybe a few GAA trivia books topping their Christmas list, 2015 is sure to bring with it a whole new set of expectancies. That could yet be TV comedy gold, or top class analysis, but one thing Sky Sports’ GAA coverage guarantees is that it certainly won’t be dull.

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue

Eamon Donoghue is a sports journalist with The Irish Times