HomeFootballCiarán Murphy: We need more games on GAAGo – not fewer

Ciarán Murphy: We need more games on GAAGo – not fewer

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What’s that line about the Velvet Underground – that only 10,000 people bought their first album, but every one of those 10,000 people formed a band?

There was a crowd of almost 42,000 in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Saturday night, and it feels like most of them have written a column about it since. But it was a genuinely incredible occasion, the best hurling game I’ve ever seen, and one of the four or five most exhilarating GAA experiences I’ve ever been at in the flesh. There was a heady mixture of defiance and chaos in the ground that made it irresistible.

I was in Wexford Park, for Wexford against Galway, on the day Cork and Limerick first played a Munster round-robin game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on a Saturday evening in 2018. I had recorded that game (on Sky, as it goes) and watched it back the following day. I’ve written here before about how it struck me that evening that we were watching what the next 20 or 30 years of the GAA should look like.

A beautiful new stadium, a near sell-out, an outrageous atmosphere. That game in 2018 finished in a draw, but in the first season of the provincial round-robins, we had been given a thrilling taste of what it would be like. We were never going back to the old system after that evening, and I was never going to miss a Cork/Limerick game in the Páirc on a Saturday evening either, if I could at all.

The game in 2022 was on a Sunday afternoon, which ended in an 11-point win for Limerick (live on RTÉ). But to arrive early last Saturday afternoon, and walk through a beautiful city, grabbing a beer by the river if you weren’t driving, strolling out at your leisure to a magnificent new stadium – it was a gift.

More people should get the chance to go to a big game in Cork, and more people should get the chance to attend games in properly comfortable stadiums. The GAA need to become more proactive about fixing games there (a guaranteed All-Ireland football and hurling quarter-final would be a good start), but the other half of that equation requires money.

And that, of course, is where the mostly empty rhetoric of the last seven days or so comes in. Jarlath Burns appeared on Claire Byrne on RTÉ Radio 1 on Monday and, I felt, fairly comprehensively demolished most of the arguments around GAAGo which were stirred up again, mostly by politicians.

(I was reminded this week of a scene in the West Wing where presidential aide Charlie Young is forced to admit that he told a journalist that president Bartlett didn’t like green beans – an admission that would apparently cause him to lose the support of the green bean growers of the nation. “Everyone’s stupid in an election year,” he’s told. “No, everyone gets treated stupid in an election year,” he replies.)

GAAGo isn’t perfect. Having three Cork hurling games, and their footballers’ match against Kerry, might be deemed to be squeezing a major market a little too forcefully. But my main criticism of GAAGo is simply that it doesn’t show enough games.

I could watch Galway minors and under-20s playing in their respective provincial championships, but there was no facility for me to watch Galway/Sligo in a Connacht senior football semi-final a couple of weeks ago. I’d have loved to have been able to tune into GAAGo for that and I’d have paid more for the privilege.

Many GAA fans will pay their subscription to GAAGo, but they’ll also subscribe to clubber.com, and to their own county board’s club streaming options. Provincial councils, like Connacht GAA, have their own streaming services also.

I’d like to be able to pay GAAGo a flat fee for all of that. There can obviously be tiers, and what is currently being offered for the 2024 intercounty season on GAAGo could still be offered at around the same price to people who would have less interest in minor, under-20 and club action, but in general that’s where this is heading – and I say the sooner, the better.

Of course we’ll have this debate again at pretty much exactly this week next year, but that’s the reality. As a Kerry footballer at a pre All-Ireland football final press conference might have put it in the 1980s, “put me down for what I said last year”.

The GAA now have more championship games that matter than they’ve ever had. With GAAGo, they have built the technological infrastructure to allow more people to see more of these games than ever before. It’s not perfect, and it might never be, but it’s going to be a part of the broadcast landscape for the foreseeable future.

Saturday evening in the Páirc was thrilling. The Ulster football final on Sunday in run-down, ramshackle, beautiful old Clones was thrilling. This year there are 11 must-see occasions (seven of them on RTÉ) in a Munster hurling championship that used to be wrapped up in four games. We’ve literally never had it as good. Why is it such an effort to constantly remind ourselves of that?

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