Michael Cusack backed pay-per-view

You could say Michael Cusack was a pay-per-view man with his Celtic Times newspaper.

FIRST things first, this love-in between Sky Television and the Gaelic Athletic Association doesn’t affect me, just because terrestrial telly, pay per view or the old formula of the hanger doubling as rabbits ears out of the back of the set doesn’t cause a thought anymore.
It’s been a hard labour, very hard at times, but when you don’t actually have a television, raising a hue and cry about the GAA selling out to Rupert Murdoch is not really on.
Bringing the television to the recycling centre on Ennis’ Gort Road was the nod to going off grid in our house and going Luddite about all the technology around us, so why should Sky, RTÉ, Setanta or any other station, whether pay-per-view or terrestrial be of concern.
Thing is, it has agitated a lot of people this week, with both sides of the argument taking to terrestrial television and radio to air their views – in support or in opposition to the GAA decision to follow the money.
Show me the money, the commercial interests within the GAA have effectively said – no better than those in News Corporation to come up trumps. This was Sky’s opening pitch, their leg in the door of the GAA coverage.
Do you really think they’re going to stop at 14 live games? Hardly. They’ll look to the whole hog down the tracks – that’s just business, their business.
As for the GAA, it’s business too and as a commercial organisation they have a huge interest in business, whether it’s throwing opening the gates of Croke Park for the first time for a Neil Diamond concert back in GAA Centenary year in 1984 or to Garth Brooks in GAA 130 and loads more times in between.
And, that’s what this is – a commercial venture by the GAA. Same way it was with rugby and soccer. The motion to open up Croke Park may have come from the St Joseph’s Miltown club – whose reasons who noble in wanting some ecumenism in Irish sport – but you can be sure that for the top brass it was a commercial decision more than it was a gesture of goodwill to games that would have been traditionally held up as belonging to the ‘foreign faction’ in generations gone by.
In many ways, you can’t get much more foreign that Sky, with the decision not to consult with the grassroots being one of the biggest criticisms thrown at the Páraic Duffy et al over the past week.
It’s a valid criticism, because time and time again the GAA prides itself on its democratic values – i.e. the way motions for change start at club level, then go to county level and on Congress – but when it suits executive decisions are made with the stroke of a pen that have little regard for those grassroots and the chain of command from the bottom up.
With the Sky deal there’s a spin-off in the sense that the Diaspora have greater access to games – at least that’s the spin from the GAA.
Thing is, the Diaspora have had no problem seeing All-Ireland semi-finals and finals over a long number of years.
It’s not like what it was generations ago. Take Clare’s own Dan McInerney when he was domiciled in London and his hurling thoughts from abroad. Sunday after Sunday he head to Golders Green – not to see the matches, but because it was there he could get a Raidio Éireann signal to listen to the games.
Or what about the famous Cavan footballer Bill Doonan – he would love to have been in Croke Park for the 1943 All-Ireland against Roscommon, or go to the cinema in the days after the game to watch the Pathé News coverage of the game, but he had no such luxuries.
He was too busy fighting Hitler, but still as a radio officer in the British Army as they moved towards Rome there was a way to ‘see’ the game. He got his equipment, went as high up a tree in Monte Cassino as he could and homed in on Michéal O’Hehir’s commentary from Croke Park.
Bill Doonan could have paid with his life to ‘see’ that All-Ireland but lived to tell the tale and went on to win a couple of All-Irelands with Cavan, so in that sense those being asked to pay a subscription to Sky to see some action shouldn’t be complaining.
They’ll pay their money – and they’ll live to tell the tale.
And they’ll see a good product, something that will make RTÉ up its game considerably. In many ways that wouldn’t be hard because RTÉ’s commitment to Gaelic Games isn’t what it should be.
For instance, there should be a GAA highlights programme throughout the year – not just The Sunday Game and League Sunday, but for the rest of the year taking in club games and all county games.
And there should be preview programmes – a weekly magazine about the GAA, along the lines of Second Captains, not the current rigid Championship Matters where everything is choreographed to the last and therefore boring.
Back in the late 1990s RTÉ did up the ante and quality with the Breaking Ball preview programme – it was no surprise that it was an independent production by Setanta for RTÉ. Even at that RTÉ did their best to bury it, giving it a time slot of after 11 on Friday nights before eventually scrapping it.
Then there was Park Live presented by Ger Gilroy – it was different and offered something new but again it was scrapped.
As for The Championship on RTÉ Radio 1 – that’s cringeworthy at times, while it’s about time that Up for the Match was put to bed permanently.
At least with Sky it won’t be dull. Yes, for those interested in seeing the action will have to pay for the privilege, but it’s not for the first time. In fact, you could argue that pay-per-view has always been there.
You see, before the advent of television and even before RTÉ struck the first blow for sports broadcasting in Europe with the live commentary of the 1926 All-Ireland hurling semi-final between Galway and Kilkenny, there was pay-per-view.
From the founder of the GAA, no less, in Clare’s own Michael Cusack.
He set up the Celtic Times newspaper in 1887 – the only copies of which are now in the Clare County Library in Ennis.
The Celtic Times reported on GAA affairs throughout the country, carrying reports, opinion pieces and commentaries on the burning issues of the GAA of the day. And, it wasn’t a free-sheet.
It cost 1d – that’s a penny.
It was pay-per-view. If you wanted to see what was going on, you parted with your penny. If you objected to paying a penny and thought it should be free, you didn’t pay.
Same with Sky 127 years later.

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