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The Evolution of Pat Spillane

We look back on how Pat Spillane’s punditry has evolved

As pundits go, Pat Spillane is one of the most outspoken. He seems to revel in controversy, using madcap metaphors to describe what he has just witnessed on the football field. In doing so Pat has brought new phrases, such as puke and shiite football, to the GAA lexicon.

Pat’s incessant competition with Joe Brolly, has forced him to utilise bombastic analogies, allowing him become RTE’s equivalent of Jeremy Clarkson.

Like Clarkson, Pat divides opinion, but unlike the former Top Gear presenter, has retained his job. By and large, Pat’s analysis is too broad, focusing on incidents as a means of driving his narrative as opposed to critiquing what he has just seen.

Pat saw the tactical innovation brought to the game by Armagh and Tyrone at the turn of the century as revolution not evolution. As a result he fought a crusade to belittle the the tactics employed by Joe Kernan and Mickey Harte.

Therefore Pat remained behind the curve, as he attempted to firstly understand, then articulate to the audience what he had just seen. Kerry’s defeats to Armagh and Tyrone hit him hard, as he struggled to comprehend how the Kingdom’s traditional game plan failed in the face of organised defences.

Pat’s rehabilitation began when Jack O’Connor became the Kerry manager. O’Connor challenged the traditionalist’s mentality as Kerry embarked upon a transformation. Replacing flamboyant attacking half backs were defensive half forwards such as Paul Galvin.

However the challenge facing Pat was a tough one. Spillane had to move away from describing brawls, such as that between Mayo and Meath in 1996, or asking teams have punch ups before games, as he did prior to the second Internationals rules test in 1998, to giving proper analysis.

In 2003 Pat seemed unable to understand what Tyrone and Armagh brought to the game. He struggled to comprehend how football had changed so quickly and was therefore unable to analyse the strategy employed by the Northern counties. As a result he simply dismissed the playing style, and in doing so coined the phrase ‘puke football’. (Never mind the picture of Mickey Joe Heart, just press play)

The rivalry between Kerry and Tyrone seemed to take over his conciousness. With the Kingdom unable to beat Mickey Harte’s side, Pat began to promote his team of the decade narrative. Despite not having got the better of Tyrone, Spillane argued that Kerry were the better side having won more All Ireland Titles and as a result were the team of the decade.

With Tyrone safely in decline and no longer posing a threat to Kerry, Pat began to get to grips with the nature of modern football. At half time during Cavan’s dour victory over Fermanagh in the 2013 Ulster Championship, Pat was able to contextualise his argument better than he had previously done so. Although he was unable to articulate it in the same manner as Colm O’Rourke, Spillane was presenting a cohesive critical analysis.

After Dublin beat Donegal in the 2011 All Ireland Semi Final, Pat illustrated how he now under understood the defensive game plan and how to overcome it. The following year he even began to praise Donegal and the tactics employed by Jimmy McGuinness.

However before I lavish too much praise on Pat, it was during the 2011 semi final that he lapsed into his Jeremy Clarkson persona, labelling the footballed played by Donegal as shiite.

He has also continued to make blanket statements without interpreting evidence. In the aftermath of the 2014 All Ireland Final, Pat argues that systems were there to be found out, without properly showing how Kerry overcame Donegal.

There is no doubt that Spillane a controversial figure that divides opinion. However, although he may play the fool, he is not the village idiot many see him to be. Spillane would never insulted a colleague as Joe Brolly did recently.

Nevertheless, having not been involved in the modern football environment, Spillane remains trapped in the past. Like many of the Sunday Game’s pundits in must be said.

Despite his faults, Spillane offers personality in an era where cold analysis is the norm. Like most, I would enjoy a Gary Neville – Jamie Carragher type offering on the Sunday Game. However Spillane brings something different.

Something I will miss when he retires.


Alan Drumm, Pundit Arena

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Author: The PA Team

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