Since the beginning of this year’s championship The Sunday Game has come under serious scrutiny in nearly every aspect of its presentation by supporters of the GAA.
Now at times that criticism has been totally warranted, with the length of the highlights programme being a sore spot for many people who don’t want to stay up until midnight before going to work the following morning.
However, we are a country of people who love jumping on a bandwagon and deciding that something has to be changed, rather than understanding that RTÉ and by extension the production team at The Sunday Game are also learning how to adapt to this new GAA calendar like everyone else.
While so called experts call for The Sunday Game to be abolished or split into two, à la Dublin, there are many positives to The Sunday Game that should be celebrated and we are going to celebrate one here today.
Michael Duignan, the Offaly hurling great, is the best co-commentator that The Sunday Game have, as he brings an added dimension to games that other co-commentators fail to.
While the former two time All-Ireland winner is sometimes called on as a pundit in studio, it is in the commentators box that the former All-Star that has blossomed into the best co-commentator in the game today.
Let’s take a look at what makes Duignan one of the best things about The Sunday Game.
Calls it as he sees it
Duignan is perhaps uncontroversial compared to some of his other Sunday game panelists, but in saying that he has had a few disagreements with certain managers over the years, when these managers have taken offence to some of the comments Duignan has made about their side.
Duignan faced these criticisms head on and didn’t back down from his opinion and was ultimately vindicated in the position he took.
While not one to throw around the word disgraceful all too often Duignan’s view on the GAA’s deal with Sky won deserved praise from every corner of the country last summer.
While he was not the first GAA pundit to criticise the Sky deal, Duignan’s account of how his 83-year-old father couldn’t watch a classic game of hurling between Waterford and Kilkenny because he didn’t have Sky, spoke to a large majority of the country who are in the same situation.
When on duty in the commentator’s box he will call games down the middle and when criticism is called for, he will dish it out fairly and isn’t spiteful in his comments towards players or counties.
On the flip side of that Duignan will also praise a player or team if they are playing well, and I know that might sound shocking but that is a rare thing in this day and age, where criticism and begrudgery rule the roost.
The Sweet Spot
Great sports commentary has to contain several things, the most important one for many is passion and the right amount of it. While many co-commentators can lose the run of themselves and ruin a massive moment, Gary Neville in the 2012 Champions League semi-final springs to mind.
What Michael Duignan does as a co-commentator is impressive, in this world of people constantly looking for a sound bite and trying to etch out a career for themselves as some sort of celebrity or become famous off the back of one moment.
Duignan is the opposite and interjects at the right moments, not with a snappy quotable line but with a constructive piece of punditry, which you can watch out for yourself the next time the sliotar is pucked out.
The great GAA commentators of days gone by such as Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh were famous for their ability to call-back to former players and moments when watching a game, Duignan does the same, he has lived and breathed hurling his entire life, he can remember great days gone by and throw a statistic out there that have long since been forgotten
But overall the thing that exemplifies why Michael Duignan is best co-commentator in the GAA today is that his passion and excitement for the game of hurling is still there.
This passion and excitement was on show during the closing stages of the 2017 All-Ireland final between Galway and Waterford. Even as a proud Offaly man, Duignan shouted with joy as Galway won their first All-Ireland since 1988.
Michael could have just been said nothing and let Marty Morrissey speak on Galway’s massive achievement. However, Duignan spoke, remembering the recently departed Tony Keady and how heartbreaking his death had been, it spoke volumes of the man that at a time of such joy and excitement he was able to remember a Galway legend who wasn’t there that day.
While on the football side of things The Sunday Game is filled with bitter ex-players who would rather criticize than praise, Duignan is a shining light and an example of why The Sunday Game is still the most important programme on Irish television during the summer.
Columnist with the GAA Wrap.