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Dublin: 4°C Wednesday 20 January 2021

TV Wrap - Brolly's absence shows the similarities between Sky and RTÉ's All-Ireland final coverage

The two broadcasters have learned from each other and now there’s little difference in their approach.

IT WAS THE Great GAAtsby, as the biggest bash of the year was dominated by the man who didn’t show up.

Joe Brolly sent The Sunday Game an ‘I-never-liked-you-anyway’ before the game by tweeting a picture of himself supping a pint with a friend, while Stephen Rochford snuggled into a panel retaining Pat Spillane and Ciaran Whelan.

Everyone got on famously in Brolly’s absence, with amiable chat mingled with a slate of pre-packaged analysis.

Nobody really talked over each other, and so the country could marvel at Pat Spillane’s ability to list off a matrix of numbers as if he was working off a limited number of remaining breaths.

The Gatsby similarities can’t be stretched to include the main stars. 

The novel’s famous closing line, meditating on the intractability of history, couldn’t be less appropriate for a Dublin team that don’t seem to give yesterday a second thought.

This Dublin team have never held truck with the romantic, quixotic narrativising of the media on the road to this five-in-a-row; that the Dubs are beating on and borne back ceaselessly into the process isn’t exactly the poetry we’re looking for.

Hence the post-match interviews began with questions asking the Dublin players if they were aware of the heft of the moment, and when that wasn’t sufficiently indulged, Marty Morrissey ended up telling Jim Gavin about the five-in-a-row at the team hotel before asking him, ‘Were you excited?’

“Absolutely, I was really happy”, confirmed Jim. 

Hey, good to get it on the record, at least. 

So it fell to the pundits to give Dublin their unique place in history.

As the “Dub in the room”, Ciaran Whelan struck the perfect tone in his post-game rhapsody, remembering the “forefathers” of Dublin football, from Heffo to Mickey Whelan and Pat Gilroy.

He also paid tribute to Stephen Cluxton and the others who had soldiered through the “dark days”, but recoiled from saying whether this Dublin team are the greatest of all time.

Pat spoke about locking himself in the toilet and weeping after losing to Offaly in ’82, but paid a full-throated salute to the Dubs and seemed genuinely energised by the quality of the game’s scoring.

His genius for listing numbers had not abated, and said that the Dubs could yet win six, seven, or even eight All-Ireland titles in a row.

On the steps of the Hogan Stand, as Cluxton lifted Sam Maguire and readied the country for his annual, comically earnest address, Ger Canning mused on the end of the Drive for Five and wondered what would come next.

“The Fix for Six?”

Yeah, hopefully that won’t stick.

jim-gavin-after-the-game Jim Gavin. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Over on Sky, Senan Connell declared himself relieved that the legacy of the four-in-a-row would not be diluted by defeat, while Kieran Donaghy held a respectful lament.

Kerry, he pointed out, had scored just five times in the second half – “five points will never win you an All-Ireland – and said he was “baffled” as to why Kerry didn’t maintain their intense press of Cluxton’s kickouts.

When Senan agreed that Gavin may be the greatest manager in the game’s history, Donaghy accepted that he would “certainly be up there.”

Gavin decided to further his act in saying nothing by not talking either, insisting to Sky that his assistants Jason Sherlock and Declan Darcy take the limelight instead. Having been sure that Gavin would stay on with Dublin to build another great team, Senan was now resting more uneasily, wondering if the pair’s rare public turn meant there was an unforeseen air of “finality” about the latest triumph.

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To which everyone on Sky and RTÉ agreed – Who the hell knows?

Much has been made this year of how Sky’s coverage has pulled The Sunday Game toward greater analytical rigour, but Sky’s has drifted toward RTÉ’s in a way, too.

Whereas once it felt clunky and too tightly-controlled – analysis unrolled and erected rather than produced – Sky’s coverage has this year become more comfortable and conversational, largely because of the addition of one of Brolly’s better sparring partners in Kieran Donaghy.

Sky even took the Brolly baton and took a dig at Tyrone, with Peter Canavan saying that his own county are lagging behind the Dubs.

“In my own county I believe that’s not happening”, Brollyed Peter. 

“There’s so much more we can and going to have to do. There’s the example of Brian Cullen, who Jim Gavin wanted, and he left a good professional setup in Leinster Rugby to go to Dublin.

“We have an excellent strength and conditioning man who left Tyrone GAA, a place where he wanted to be, to go to Ulster Rugby.

“In so many ways I believe that Dublin are amateur in ethos but professional in practice. Other counties are amateur in ethos and amateur in practice.”

Brolly’s ghost stalked RTÉ’s coverage only once, and so, in the closing montage of Dublin’s past five finals, we heard from him on The Sunday Game for what may be the final time. 

“There’s no vanity, and that will drive them on.”


About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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