At 6:10pm last Sunday, RTÉ Two screened, for the 957th time, a James Bond movie – Octopussy, rated three stars.
By the time the opening credits had finished, Richie Towell already converted a penalty in a heated contest between two of the best teams in the country right now, Dundalk and Cork City.
Admittedly, the match itself was probably no more than a three star affair. Let’s face it, a wet Oriel Park on a Sunday evening doesn’t necessarily set the scene for a glamorous Bond film and John Caulfield doesn’t quite cut it as a Bond villain either. But the game, which finished 1-1, was enjoyable nonetheless.
The question that needs to be asked is, why couldn’t RTÉ, the national broadcaster, show this potential title-decider? Yes, there was GAA coverage on Sunday, but the Cork vs Galway match finished at approximately 5:30pm. Did they really have to reflect, for 40 minutes, on what the viewers had already witnessed over the past four hours?
Maybe they did, though this writer doesn’t think too many would have objected to a slightly later kick-off time at Oriel Park, if it was to accommodate television coverage.
However, this underlying problem goes far beyond the GAA and even James Bond. For years now, RTÉ have begrudgingly covered League of Ireland football as part of a deal with the FAI, which also grants them the right to show Ireland’s competitive matches, be it in the World Cup or European Championships.
Almost a year ago, it was announced that RTÉ and the FAI agreed a deal to show 78 live games from the SSE Airtricity League until 2018. That means almost 20 matches per season. A nice thought, but seems to be yet another false promise as only four matches have been broadcast so far this year, and with Setanta Ireland showing Cork City vs Bohemians tonight, it leaves just ten remaining matchdays for RTÉ.
It should be noted that Soccer Republic, the weekly LOI highlights show, has improved immensely from its disastrous beginnings. But it’s just a starting point, nothing more than that. The League of Ireland fan-base remain starved for coverage and RTÉ has no excuse – they show very little football, the most popular sport in Ireland and indeed the world.
Granted not everyone in Ireland is a football or sports lover. A suggestion would be to have a dedicated sports channel. This writer recently watched the first leg of Dundalk’s Champions League qualifier against BATE Borisov using an internet stream from Belarusian TV.
Belarus, a nation which doesn’t charge its people €160 for a TV licence, has six channels – one dedicated entirely to sport.
League of Ireland supporters have, for years now, been trying relentlessly to convert what are commonly known as ‘barstoolers’. But that simply cannot be achieved overnight, it’s a long, grueling process. The obvious way to grab their immediate attention is to get them to watch live matches on television, something they are already accustomed to.
However, as I’ve previously mentioned, RTÉ have shown just four live games this year and you’d be stretched to find another country that wouldn’t televise a meeting between the top two teams of its respective league. This evident lack of exposure hasn’t helped matters.
How can we honestly expect the general public to take up an interest in the domestic game here when the national broadcaster often doesn’t?
Niall Newberry, Pundit Arena