THERE have been times over the years when I’ve watched Joe Brolly come out with some outlandish soundbite on TV and I have cringed.
On other occasions I have let a shoe, or the nearest thing to me, fly when Pat Spillane has gone on one of his rants.
But I’m wrong to get worked up. Those two lads know what they are doing. They know how to rattle cages, push buttons and ultimately promote their product.
And finally, I’m around long enough to realise that we need them in the GAA – for good or bad.
It’s taken me a while to get there, though.
Some years ago, Brolly labeled the Waterford footballers a ‘pub team’. He was half the reason why I then spent a year travelling around with that said team, documenting their personal struggles and their battles to get out of Division 4. In 2009 I joined them for the season with the aim of disproving Brolly’s theory high on my agenda. One of the Waterford players, Paul Ogle, postponed an operation to have a tumour removed to play a league game against Cavan. He was part of no pub team, I can tell you.
Those guys may have played the role of whipping boys for an eternity but don’t disrespect them. I’ve always wanted to say that to Brolly but whenever I’ve met him I’ve been pretty much taken aback at how sociable and fun he is and, to be honest, I’ve never bothered to lower the tone.
Spillane, too, seems like a decent sort. A few weeks ago he was on about how the Cork footballers were regressing and this weekend he was telling us that we could write them off at our peril. No matter, though, I’ve made more U-turns myself than OJ Simpson on a Los Angeles freeway. Last weekend he called Ballybofey a tight pitch. In fact, it’s bigger than Croke Park and Thurles. But again, being a total scatterbrain myself, I’ve mixed up dates and scorelines more often than is right for any journalist. Let he without sin and all that….
The bottom line is we need these guys. Just 1200 people turned up to Cork-Limerick on Saturday night. Only for Brolly and company and their sometimes outrageous views, attendances could be even poorer this year – particularly in the early stages of the season.
That’s why I was a little surprised at the backlash Eamonn O’Hara has received for his Sunday Game analysis on Kevin Walsh and the Sligo set-up. O’Hara is slick, looks well and talks well too. He is exactly the type of pundit RTE should be looking at. Though he doesn’t have a stack of All-Ireland medals, he is relevant, tuned into modern ways and not afraid to call it.
He is fully entitled to have a pop at whoever he wants.
As a viewer I would have felt shortchanged had he come out and gave the whole ‘London are a coming team, Sligo were just unlucky’ sort of guff. The truth is that this Sligo team has been in decline for two years and Kevin Walsh has probably stayed on a year too long. But Walsh, who clearly had differing views to O’Hara regarding his role as a squad member in 2013, is a good fella and big enough to ship this criticism. He is an All-Ireland winner, was one of the best midfielders the game has ever seen, and his initial exploits with Sligo will surely leave him firmly in the frame for a crack with Galway in the years to come.
People have said O’Hara got personal with the criticism but I think his analysis was clinical and well formulated. He spoke of in-fighting among the county board, an alleged poor quality of training, the fact that their centre of excellence was at a standstill and gave us a good general insight as well as a specific critique of the manager.
O’Hara gets paid to call a spade a spade for RTE and he did just that. There may have been some baggage attached to his viewpoint but he works for RTE now. He is no longer a member of the Sligo panel and maybe feels he deserved better treatment after all his years of distinguished service. If that’s the case he’s quite entitled to call it.
I’d certainly rather sit down to listen to him, Ger Loughnane and Donal Og Cusack than the likes of Jamie Redknapp and Ray Wilkins.
We spend the whole year looking for pundits to get off the fence and call it straight and when one finally does we climb to the high moral ground. It’s mad.
Take O’Hara’s analysis for what it is. His old team has been in freefall for a while now. They were beaten by London so obviously, there are mounting problems. He possibly feels he should be still involved but he’s not. He is still, however, perfectly positioned to offer his tuppence worth on what is going wrong.
Unlike pundits who tip the teams their own counties are playing, unlike pundits who sit on the fence and get paid for it, O’Hara showed loyalty to his new team – RTE. Having given almost two decades of loyalty to his first love, Sligo, he more or less had a door closed in his face.
Now he is taking a leaf out of Brolly and Spillinane’s book. Playing for a new team. That’s life. That’s the way this game works.