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No sign of the Sky falling for RTÉ despite new competitor in GAA coverage

Head of Sport, Ryle Nugent, is confident experience will be key for the national broadcaster.

Ryle Nugent is confident that RTE have the experience to deal with Sky.
Ryle Nugent is confident that RTE have the experience to deal with Sky.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

IT MAY BE home to the All-Ireland Senior Club Football champions but, on this occasion, the St. Vincent’s clubhouse feels more like backstage at The Sunday Game.

There’s Pat Spillane tucking into a ham sandwich while Ciarán Whelan and Eamonn O’Hara chat over a coffee.

In the background Des Cahill is sharing a story with Colm O’Rourke while Darragh Maloney offers to take my photo with the Sam Maguire, joking it’s the closest a Kildare man is likely to get to it this summer.

It’s all quite surreal but there’s a reason the great and good of RTÉ have gathered in Marino and it’s to launch the national broadcaster’s GAA championship coverage.

When news broke earlier this year that British broadcaster Sky would be showing exclusive games this summer as part of a new TV rights deal there were some misgivings, though many felt the tone of questioning from RTÉ – on Prime Time in particular – was overly aggressive towards the GAA.

However, as far as Head of Sport Ryle Nugent is concerned at least, competing with other broadcasters is nothing new for RTÉ, it’s just the sports in question now take place in GAA grounds.

“This isn’t new for RTÉ Sport,” he told TheScore.ie.

“Our soccer coverage and rugby coverage has – for as long as I’m in RTÉ, so for the last 15 years – had competition against BBC and ITV at major events, against Sky at international and Champions League level.

“Elsewhere, our rugby coverage has competed against Sky and TG4 at European and regional level.

“So, this sense that we’re competing against Sky for the first time is not something that we’ve given any thought to.

“We’ve enough to concentrate on in producing the very best programming we can for the audience so that’s what we look forward to doing.”

Ciaran Whelan, Colm OÕRourke, Kevin McStay, Des Cahill, Michael Lester, Pat Spillane, Martin McHugh, Eamonn O'Hara and Martin Carney Some of the RTÉ panellists pose with the Sam Maguire. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

He does admit, however, that there was some fear that Sky may swoop in to poach some of RTÉ’s more high profile stars.

“There’s always competition in the market place for good presenters, good commentators, good analysts but, again, that’s nothing new for us.

“What I’m delighted about is that I think we have a group who are very engaged with the audience, whom the audience are very engaged with.

“All our programming probably has three core aspects; educate, engage and entertain and that’s my view on what all our output should do.

“If you look at the panellists on our football and hurling coverage, I’m very happy we have that balance right.

Despite it being a World Cup year, not to mention the fact the broadcaster will also be covering national and international events as diverse as the Galway Races and European Athletics Championships, Nugent insists the GAA championships remain the jewel in the broadcaster’s crown.

“There’s an absolutely huge summer coming up for RTÉ.

“A lot of people start talking about World Cups but the GAA championships are, for us, the biggest and singularly most important things we do and we’re really looking forward to it having – after an incredibly competitive process – retained our level of rights with 31 live games.

“And, actually, our rights have improved because we’ve all the provincial finals back and have held on to our suite of radio packages.

“We were absolutely delighted with the result of that and we’re really looking forward to the summer.”

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Steve O'Rourke

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