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Sky Sports and the GAA were always odd bedfellows – a divorce was inevitable

There was no hint, however, that the deal between RTE and Sky would not be reviewed.

Sky GAA© ©INPHO/James Crombie

Sean McGoldrickSunday World

SO, after a nine-year courtship, the relationship between the GAA and Sky Sports has ended in an amicable divorce. They were always odd bedfellows.

Funny back in 2014 when news of the deal initially leaked it was assumed it was a clever April Fool’s Day prank – after all it was April 1.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The GAA had finally grasped a particularly thorny nettle and sold part of the family silver to a British-based pay-per-view company.

All hell broke loose - led by the national station RTE - who treated the story as if the world were about to end.

They were so accustomed to being the dominant player in the GAA TV market in Ireland one suspects they assumed the GAA would never do the unthinkable and sip wine with a British-based company. Unquestionably, RTE used this leverage in their negotiation with the GAA over the decades.

But the GAA, under the then Presidency of Liam O’Neill and director general Pauric Duffy, called RTE’s bluff. Mind you the deal was criticised by many within the GAA itself.

They were never fully convinced about the merits of the deal, even when the money started to roll in. And it was a substantial figure – an estimated €55m over the last five years.

There was no hint, however, that the deal between RTE and Sky would not be reviewed.

Indeed, with the number of games under the new championship format exploding to 99 next summer - there were 60 this year - it was assumed Sky would be on board again.

The fly in the ointment, however, was the GAA’s controversial split season which will see the All-Ireland hurling and football championships completed before the end of July.

Sky wanted live sport to fill the vacuum left by the absence of cross-channel soccer during the summer months. But under the new calendar a sizeable chunk of the GAA’s championship games will be played before the cross-channel season ends next season.

It is understood this wasn’t the actual sticking point in the talks. Sky wanted a slice of the Allianz League as well – the competition assumes huge significance next spring because of the new championship format. Surprisingly, the GAA wouldn’t budge on this issue and the negotiations hit an insurmountable hurdle.

Even though it will mean a significant loss of revenue, one gets the impression that nobody in the GAA will shed tears about Sky’s departure.

The funny thing is fans will still have to fork out money to see championship games on television next summer.

RTE are showing less than a third (31) of the scheduled 99 championship games. BBC Northern Ireland will be showing games from the Ulster championship, while the All-Ireland finals in both codes will be transmitted by BBC all over the UK.

But the interesting bit is that a yet unspecified number of matches will be transmitted on the GAAGO subscription service, which is a joint venture between the association and the national broadcaster.

Originally this service was established to televise games abroad. But during Covid it moved into the Irish market and it is here to stay. Indeed, it is probably the future model for the GAA’s TV coverage.

Essentially it is the GAA’s own TV service – granted it is still in an embryonic state, but it is the future. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

PS

I took a redeye flight to London early yesterday morning to make sure I was out of the country before the All-Star football team was announced.

This is the time of the year that GAA journalists, who are used to doling out criticism, have to hold their tongues and swallow their own medicine.

Joking aside, I doubt if this year’s football team will generate too much controversy. It was relatively straightforward to pick. There was a historic note to the meeting – for first time two female selectors, RTE’s Joanne Cantwell and Gráinne McElwain from Sky, sat around the table.

The scheme is to undergo a long overdue review over the next six months. Gaelic football has changed beyond recognition since the scheme was launched in 1971.

No team lines out in the convention 1 to 15 formation any longer. Yet the selectors are hamstrung by the practice of picking the team in the traditional format.

So, there is no provision to select a specialist sweeper, for example. Hopefully, the review will address this anomaly.

One striking feature of the football team was David Clifford winning his fourth All Star at the tender age of 23. He is still six short of Pat Spillane’s record nine gongs. But the way he is going nobody would bet against him becoming the most decorated All-Star footballer of all time.


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