gaa documentaries

'It would be good if we could do more documentaries on our games' - Paul Flynn

‘Blues Sisters’ rounded off a fine year for GAA documentaries.

Dublin players celebrates with the Brendan Martin Cup Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

ON MONDAY NIGHT, RTÉ’s ‘Blues Sisters’ gave an excellent insight into the Dublin ladies dressing room during their 2017 All-Ireland winning campaign.

On the back of three successive final defeats, a film crew followed them for the season they finally delivered the Brendan Martin Cup.

From Ken Robinson’s precise pitch measurements to Nicole Owens’s revelation that she struggled with depression, the documentary hit the right notes and fully captured the squad dynamic.

It was another home run for director Pat Comer, the man behind arguably the GAA’s finest ever documentary ‘A Year ‘Til Sunday’.

“It was a brilliant documentary I thought,” says Dublin footballer Paul Flynn, whose fiancée Fiona Hudson was part of the Dublin ladies squad.

“It was excellent and gave out great insight into it and thank God Ken Robinson was there giving us the yardage of the pitches!

“Fiona was very emotional watching it. I’m sure all the girls were. But it was great just to give an insight into not just the level of training they do, but also the hurt they go through.

“I know that Nicole Owens was giving a good insight into some of the challenges that she had dealing with depression. Then Sinead Finnegan dealing with injury and the death of her father. So it just gave a great insight into the people as well as the team. I thought it was excellent.”

original Nicole Owens on 'Blues Sisters' Nicole Owens on 'Blues Sisters'

GAA-documentary buffs have been treated to a slew of impressive films this year. AIB’s ‘Behind the Gates’ was a mini-documentary series that brought viewers inside the Roscommon camp during their Connacht title-winning season. The banking institution also produced the light-hearted ‘Jeff and Kammy’ series that was a huge hit.

Then on RTÉ we had ‘GAA Nua’ – also directed by Comer – the future-looking TV series that looked at how science and technology have changed the game.

TG4′s outstanding ‘Laochra Gael’ series returned for a 15th series, with movies brought out on Donal Óg Cusack, Dara Ó Cinnéide, Pete Finnerty, Eamonn O’Hara, Tommy Walsh, Cliodhna O’Connor, Pat Fox, the Lowrys (Brendan, Seán, Mick) Offaly, Seánie McMahon Clare and Eoin Mulligan.

TG4 made a number of other fine GAA films. It aired a two-part series called ‘Níos Mó Ná Cluiche (More Than A Game)’ which explored the GAA’s unique history in Ulster. In ‘Poc na nGael’ Ger Loughnane uncovered how ice hockey traced its roots back to hurling, while ‘An Pháirc’ was a nostalgic look through time at Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 5.46.49 p.m. Owen Mulligan on his 'Laochra Gael' TG4 TG4

AIB also rolled out its third season of ‘Toughest Trade’ on RTÉ, with cameras following Lee Chin as he took on ice hockey with the Vancouver Canucks, while Michael Murphy joined French rugby side Clermont Auvergne. The Chin episode even caused a stir in Canada when he indicated his surprised at the level of drinking and fighting in ice hockey.

The Guardian made a documentary called ‘Pitching Up’ about how a young generation of immigrants are flocking to GAA in Ballyhaunis, Mayo. And RTÉ aired ‘All-Ireland Day: The Hurling Final’ – a Loosehorse documentary which offered viewers a different perspective of the recent hurling decider between Galway and Waterford.

Sponsored films are becoming big too.

AIG – sponsors of Dublin – also produced several interesting mini-films on some of the Dublin men and ladies footballers, while PwC – sponsors of the football All-Stars – did short films on Andy Moran and James McCarthy.

PwC Ireland / YouTube

Above all other brands, AIB has piggybacked on the GAA to restore its brand reputation.

The financial institution received a $21 billion rescue package funded by the Irish people after the economic crisis of 2007-08. A 2017 ESP sponsorship study found that in 2008, 99 percent of media sentiment and 90 percent of social media sentiment about AIB was negative.

Seeking to save their approval rating, AIB moved into GAA sponsorship in 2013. They went from the 22nd sports sponsor in Ireland to the number one and started pumping money into GAA videos. From 2013 to 2017 they went from 30,000 views on all their clips to 19.5 million views on GAA videos alone. Their trust perspective raised from 6% to 57% in the four years.

Unlike brands, television networks have long seen the value in producing good GAA documentaries. RTÉ featured great films like ‘Marooned’, ‘Tall, Dark and Ó hAilpín’, ’Every Heart Beats True: The Jim Stynes Story’, BBC aired the brilliant ‘Crossmaglen: Field Of Dreams’ while TG4 have produced long list of excellent ‘Laochra Gael’ shows including ones about Oisín McConville, Dan Shanahan, Ja Fallon and DJ Carey.

Paidi O'Se is engulfed by supporters at the end of the game INPHO INPHO

Because the GAA is so parochial, each county has a rich sense of its own history and old documentaries stand the test of time. Countless Kerry footballers have spoken about growing up watching the ‘Kerry GAA The Golden Years’ film, while ‘A Year ‘Til Sunday’ from 1998 is still a right of passage for Galway youngsters.

In 2016, Comer was involved with the Galway minor footballers as a goalkeeping coach. Before they contested the All-Ireland final, Comer and the management decided to introduce the youngsters to a blast from the past.

“A week or two before the final, for a bit of craic, we had a training session, then had a mass and told them there would be a surprise after it,” he told The42 last April.

“After the mass, we showed them ‘A Year ‘Til Sunday’ and at the end the surprise was Ja Fallon came in. The guys just lit up. There was a round of applause and they were just able to connect with him.

“It was special that they were Galway lads, young Galway lads.

“It’s something that I am proud of. I think Galway people are proud of it.”

John O'Mahony 23/8/1998 John O'Mahony during Galway's 1998 All-Ireland winning season Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

RTÉ’s ‘Ireland’s Greatest Sporting Moment’ has captured the nation and annoyed just about everybody in the process. It’s been the subject of countless newspaper columns and Twitter spats over the past month and shows how decade-old sporting moments can still infuriate and energise people.

In America, sports documentaries are enjoying a golden age.

“I love watching the likes of ‘American’s Game’ documentaries or ‘Hard Knocks’,” says Flynn.

“If you look at them, they don’t really give away anything about how a team is setting up. But as a spectator and someone who enjoys their sports, whenever I’m over there watching it live or whenever it’s on TV I watch, but I don’t actively follow anyone.

“Watching them documentaries – 30 for 30s and stuff – I think they’re excellent.”

‘Hard Knocks’, first aired on NFL Films and HBO in 2001, follows an NFL team through training camp, while ESPN’s critically acclaimed ’30 for 30′ series has been wildly successful and the most recognisable sports documentary franchise in history.

ESPN films did 100 sports documentaries between 2009-14 – including the ’30 for 30′ series – but nothing beat the 2016 O.J.: Made in America docu-series that won an Oscar in February. It has set the standard for sports films.

“Long-form storytelling is growing,” said ESPN executive Connor Schell told the New York Times in 2015, vice president and executive producer of ESPN Films. “You can tell people in-depth stories, and they can consume it when they want. Sit people down and tell them a good story.”

OJ arrives 3/SIMPSON OJ Simpson PA Archive / PA Images PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Back in Ireland, documentaries like ‘Blues Sisters’ and ‘Behind the Gate’ indicate more of a willingness from inter-county teams to let cameras into the inner sanctum. The fact Dublin went on to win the All-Ireland shows that it wasn’t a distraction.

In the last decade, the Cork ladies footballers voted against breaking the sanctity of the dressing room by allowing filmmakers in during their dominance, but that attitude appears to be changing.

“I think it would be good if we could do more of that (documentaries) on our games, to celebrate our games a little bit more,” says Flynn.

“It’s a light touch. You’re not giving away trade secrets but you’re just giving a little insight for people to be able to further engage with the players.

“I think everyone would want to see all the teams do one. You could say people would want to see Dublin within Dublin, but I’m sure everyone down in Mayo is going to want to see what their guys are doing, and likewise in Kerry, Tyrone, Galway or wherever it is.

Paul Flynn, Kevin McManamon and Bernard Brogan take a selfie Will we ever see a documentary from inside the Dublin men's camp? Tommy Dickson / INPHO Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

“As a GAA fan, whether it be hurling, football or camogie, last night was a sign that people have an appetite to see things like that. I haven’t met anyone today who didn’t enjoy it.

“I’d been watching tele lately and I spend half the time on my phone, and I’m just semi-watching tele. But when I was watching it last night I was fully engaged in it. You know what’s going to happen next but at the same time it was good TV.

“I think documentaries like that are good. It’s something maybe the GAA and people can look at collectively.”

It might be some time before Jim Gavin lets cameras inside the Dublin dressing room, but the GAA is moving in the right direction.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

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