ONE of the first discussions that takes place in Ireland’s ever-dwindling number of offices and factories on Monday mornings is about the Sunday Game. Everybody’s got an opinion on their opinion — accept us.
Despite living in the age of satellites and instant electronic communication we Irish in Britain are out of the circuit when it comes to keeping up with Gaelic games at home.
Well, you can take out a subscription to Premier Sports (but only if you have a Sky platform) which gets you a few games. You can go down a dimly-lit information superhighway that leads to proxy servers and false IP addresses and the like. If you know what you’re doing you could rig a satellite dish, but we wouldn’t advocate that type of thing. We’d like access, free and easy, just like you get across the Irish Sea.
More than any crisp or perfect pint of stout or home cooking or a breath of clean air, or any of that stuff, the first thing I appreciate when I get home is the TV. The match! With full analysis! Right here in my sitting room! It’s the small pleasures in life that sustain you.
Four years ago I wrote a column for this paper which argued that the Irish abroad got a raw deal compared people at home when it comes to watching the national sports. Nothing has changed.
The GAA, to their credit, make the games available on free-to-air TV in Ireland when they could earn a lot of money by auctioning them to the highest bidder. Emigrants, though, must put their hands in their pocket, and keep doing so until at least the start of the 2014 Championship — when the currents rights deal expires.
Irish people, especially in times of recession, have always moved abroad in large numbers in search of a pay day. If the GAA is serious about going with them, they must not travel in search of the same thing.
For a kid to get involved in sport, they have to first become interested. It’s not hard to become interested in football or hurling when you live in Ireland; the games are everywhere you look and everywhere you don’t. Most obviously, they are on TV; if your parents can’t take you to Thurles or Croke Park, there it all is, on RTE 2 or TV3.
In Britain, as in Ireland, so many people fight the good fight when it comes to training the next generation. It’s so much harder to make headway when youngsters don’t have access to the elite level of the sport on the box. Kids need heroes and to be inspired by great deeds.
Something like the ABCs in Greenford this July will give the games a monumental shove over here, but the appeal has to be two-fold; give them the chance to play, give them the chance to see the best perform week after week.
Adults may be beyond the age of heroes, but they still appreciate the chance to kick back and watch their favourite sports in their living room. Also, they want to see their county play. When you’re a long way from that county, the appreciation grows. Sport is a passion and also a link to home, something that keeps you in the conversation whenever you make it back for a few days.
The GAA has, over the decades, worked tirelessly to bind those links. They’ve also invested huge money in employing coaches, buying property and flying teams between Ireland and Britain. That’s why it’s such a pity they don’t use the satellites and cables and world-wide-webs that link today’s planet to show the exiles some love.
Emigrants are not just a market — they are supporters and players and potential players. If nurtured, they have much to offer. A lot more than £7.99 a month plus a subscription to Sky.