Why all the fear and loathing over Joe Brolly or, for that matter, any television pundit?

Tyrone’s fact-sheet only proves that counties are taking a TV programme far too seriously

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh: “I’ve been listening to Joe for a long time and I never get too worked up about it. I leave that to my Da.” Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Tyrone’s Seán Cavanagh: “I’ve been listening to Joe for a long time and I never get too worked up about it. I leave that to my Da.” Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

We were somewhere around Garvaghy when the facts began to take hold. I remember saying something like, “I feel a bit light-headed; maybe you should drive…” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge umbrellas, all swooping and pointing and whirligigging around the car. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Turned out it was just the Tyrone press night. Fear and loathing in mid-Ulster. Tea and sandwiches only, not a pellet of mescaline nor a drop of ether in sight. Mind you, the endlessly helpful PRO Eunan Lindsay did at one point say we were free to go wherever we liked in their Celtic T-shaped clubhouse to conduct the interviews – “Except, obviously, through this door to the right”.

Obviously? Why obviously? What on earth was behind that door? It had to be one of two things. They were either hiding Seán Cavanagh’s bespoke-tailored tackle-bag area, replete with life-sized models of Cillian O’Connor and Andy Moran (both with a dash of just-about-to-be-extinguished hope in their eyes because Tyrone are about nothing if they’re not about detail) or it was the sort of stash of uppers, downers, laughers and screamers that would have made Hunter S cry for mama. No other explanation is possible.

Anyway, we were about halfway through the evening they started handing out A4 sheets of paper, printed on which were the FACTS of Tyrone’s season so far.

You knew they meant business because it was printed in blue ink and it had bullet points and bits underlined and bits bolded up. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on the church door were as post-it notes by comparison.

Big screen
It was around this point that you wanted to take every inter-county manager, chairman, player, supporter and PRO into a big old hall with a big old screen and get them to repeat after you: “TV pundits do not matter. TV pundits are not the sport. We are the sport . . .”

For this has been the summer when it all got out of hand. This has been the summer when reactions went way over the top and perspective was completely lost. Not by Joe Brolly or Pat Spillane or Ger Loughnane or any of the other silver-flecked screen idols who have been filling out the time to the ad breaks. But by the counties themselves, scuttling to make up imaginary ground on what is, after all, just a TV programme.

Away back at the start of the summer, this paper did a round-table lunch with Spillane, Loughnane and Des Cahill. Predictably enough, it was Spillane who provided the headline.

“You know what I think?” he said. “You can have serious analysis and that’s fine. But I think the majority of people watching games aren’t really into serious analysis. At times we forget that TV is entertainment. That’s a big part of it. Yes the anoraks want serious analysis but the anoraks are a small percentage of the audience. The vast majority of people don’t want the anorak stuff. They want the bit of craic and the bit of passion and the bit of controversy.”

Now, you can agree or disagree with Spillane’s premise here. But whatever you think of him, Spillane has been shucking and jiving about the GAA on RTÉ for 21 years at this point so his take on the level of importance we should attach to what’s said on screen is entirely relevant. He thinks you shouldn’t take it so seriously and it’s obvious Brolly thinks the same.

Briefest minute
So why? Why do it? Why have the Sligo chairman go on the Six-One News to give Kevin Walsh a vote of confidence after Eamon O’Hara’s hatchet job? Why issue an apology to supporters on the county website one week – as Paul Grimley did after Armagh lost to Cavan – but then follow it up the next with a screed over what Joe Brolly is and isn’t entitled to say? Why spend even the briefest minute of an All-Ireland semi-final press night handing out fact-sheets on the number of fouls committed by and against your team?

Counties will argue that there is cause and effect here. Tyrone, especially, feel that the reputational damage wrought by media negativity towards their team doesn’t do them any favours with referees. To which there are two counter-arguments. First, their own statistics show they’ve won more frees than they’ve conceded this year (cheers for heads-up, lads). And second, maybe their reputation would improve if the best player in the country this summer would stop rugby- tackling the opposition.

In the end, they must know it’s all hot-air and that a pundit’s words are just that and nothing more. Seán Cavanagh’s brilliant interview with Newstalk after the Monaghan game reminded everyone who heard it what a pleasure he is to have in the sport. When they threw him Brolly’s line on forgetting about him as a man, he laughed it off. “I’ve been listening to Joe for a long time and I never get too worked up about it. I leave that to my Da”.

See? There you go everybody. That’s how you do it. They’re just words on a television programme. And even the most factual television is artificial, subject to all manner of constraints to do with time and technology and organisational outer boundaries that bear no resemblance to real life. You may as well reach for the torches and pitchforks over a storyline on Love/Hate.

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