Master blaster misses the point… again

By Liam Murphy

“That’s terrible,” said Peter Sheehan as he sat in the Bridge Bar and Grill in Glengormley watching the Munster hurling final between Limerick and Cork a few weeks ago.

Peter is a Limerick man and a hurling fanatic. He came to north Belfast in the mid-1970s as a bar manager. He played for St Enda’s with distinction and after retirement he put in a stint as chairman of the club. Then he revolutionised the coaching system and organisation in the club, going into local schools to coach the game and generally raising standards. The profile of hurling in St Enda’s was greatly enhanced by his intense knowledge and his dedication.

Paddy McCoy (also a former hurler) was sitting alongside him viewing the game and was baffled by Peter’s comment since Limerick’s right half forward Declan Hannon had just scored a monster point.

“I thought that was a great point,” said Paddy.

Peter went on to explain that he was not criticizing the player but the camera work. And he had a point. I was also watching the game in Bar Logo, Ramsay, Isle of Man. Hannon scored from over 70 metres from goal, away deep on the left hand sideline. The ball soared high in the sky. The camera followed it. The white ball disappeared in the white sky and we only realised it was a point when the umpire reached for the white flag and the crowd roared.

RTé had a number of cameras in Pairc Ui Caoimh but yet we did not see this particular point (and many others in many other games) live. The main or master camera is located high in the stand, on or close to the halfway line. It is the one mainly used for soccer, Gaelic, rugby and hurling games. As it is a wide angled camera it captures all the action including the movement of players off the ball but because it is so far back from the field the players are reduced to miniatures and it is often difficult to identify players. In this case the colour of the Limerick jersey (green) made it almost impossible to see him strike what was a wonderful point as all we saw was an unrecognisable blur.

The director will often switch to another camera to give us a close up when, for instance a group of players rise to win the ball from a puck out but when the ball is being moved to any sector of the field he will revert to the master camera. A break in play will give him the chance to select an incident or a score from an alternative angle to the main camera. RTé have generally done a good job. The introduction of “Steadicam”, the stabilising bodysuit that allows cameramen to rush up and down the touchlines without making viewers feel sick gives us an alternative view. Their coverage has always been superior to that of BBC. I often thounght when I saw clips from Grandstand that their coverage of soccer was pathetic. With Grandstand, the clue was in the title: the viewer was meant to feel that he or she was watching from the stands. Hurling, being a much faster game is more difficult game to cover. I also think that RTé should now be moving on and improving coverage and I think they will.

I went to Hamburg in November 2009 for the Champions League game between Hamburg and Celtic. The game itself was forgettable but there were two things I remember from being there. The first was a huge Union Jack and a massive No Surrender banner. I was in the back seat of the upper deck and was intrigued by what looked like the electric hare at greyhound meetings as it sailed past, backwards and forwards and across and back at our level. I spent more time watching this than I did watching the action. It was only when I discovered that there were a number of them that I realised they were cameras. They are known as cable cameras. These are lightweight cameras mounted on cables that are attached to fixed points at the corners of the stadium. The cables criss-cross the field overhead and are computer-controlled by technicians. The cable cameras swoop and zoom from overhead giving us the kind of view once restricted to the players themselves. The cable camera can appear to be on the shoulder of a player showing us his view of the play. Cable cameras were used for the World Cup and I noticed that they were in place in Celtic Park for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games

Sky have covered just two hurling games in the Championship both from Nowlan Park. In each case their coverage was of a high standard and I am certain it will improve. In their first game they introduced the ultra-slow-motion cameras. Next day RTé used them for the first time ever in Gaelic games. My hunch is that Sky will introduce the cable cameras when they cover hurling in Croke Park – and RTé will follow suit. The main camera is tolerable in soccer, rugby and Gaelic because the ball is much bigger and visible at all times. In hurling it has become almost redundant.

I also wonder if the GAA will do some research on making the sliothar more visible. In Australia an orange ball is used in televised floodlit cricket games.

According to RTé pundit Colm O’Rourke very few people have Sky in their homes.

“What’s the difference between Sky and the Loch Ness Monster?” ran a joke. “Some people have seen the Loch Ness Monster.”

I asked Peter Sheehan which station he would tune into for the hurling semi-finals and final – both RTé and Sky will transmit these games.

“Neither,” was his reply, “ I’ll be in Croke Park.”

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