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AUDIO: Ewan MacKenna On Why The Irish Media Is Biased Towards Rugby

AUDIO: Ewan MacKenna On Why The Irish Media Is Biased Towards Rugby
Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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On Sunday, Ewan MacKenna did battle with the twitter hordes who were attempting to put the nicest possible spin on Ireland's latest World Cup disappointment.

The excessive use of the word 'bravery' irked MacKenna.

He appeared on Newstalk's Team 33 podcast this week to discuss the differences between the media's coverage of the Irish rugby team and their coverage of other Irish sides, notably the soccer team.

MacKenna has two main problems with the coverage of rugby in Ireland.


Firstly, he contends that the rugby team are mollycoddled by the media after big defeats, whereas the soccer team are often pilloried.


And secondly, he believes that rugby receives far too much coverage in the Irish media generally. He cites research to demonstrate that rugby 'is not that big a sport' in this country, pointing out that, as of 2013, only 3% of over-16s in the country were members of rugby clubs, compared to the 21% who are members of GAA clubs. (Viewing figures for rugby matches also compare badly with big soccer and GAA matches, with only two big rugby matches featuring in the top 10 of most watched sporting events of 2014.)

He puts this down to a couple of factors. Namely, that rugby media in Ireland is an old boys club that has a social element dating back to the sport's days as an amateur game. And he contends that people at boardroom level and in decision making roles in the Irish media are often drawn from private schools in Dublin.


I think it goes back to people in key positions in newspapers, televisions stations and whatever else. People at a boardroom level often tend to come from private rugby playing schools and I think they set the agenda... I think that's why it (rugby) gets so much coverage. I think it's overblown as to how popular it is...

I remember working in the Sunday Tribune before it went bust a few years ago, and we could never hold our first edition for a big soccer match, yet the managing director, who was a rugby fan, would always make sure that we'd pay extra money and hold it if there was a rugby match on.

The World Cup in South Africa was on and a colleague of mine, Miguel Delaney, paid his own way to go to the World Cup because we weren't sending any of our journalists to cover it. Yet, that summer, a kind of an Irish 'B' team toured Argentina and we paid for three journalists to go and cover it. Again, because from on high, this is rugby, this is our sport.

And that's kind of the elephant in the room. A lot of the people who work in the media know that. They've seen it...

The Irish Independent the day before the All-Ireland football final had a picture on its front page of Ireland-Canada and nothing on the All-Ireland football final.

Listen to the entertaining discussion below. Begins around one quarter of the way through:


For MacKenna, the coverage of Sean O'Brien's suspension perfectly summed up the manner in which rugby is treated in Ireland.

As we have noted here before, the consensus in Ireland appeared to be that Pascal Pape behaved unreasonably by wincing in pain and going to ground after O'Brien had punched him in the gut.


You compare what Philly McMahon did (alleged gouge in All-Ireland final) and the reaction to him from media, and then you compare the reaction to Sean O'Brien punching a guy in the stomach and stupidly getting himself suspended for a key game. There was very little criticism of him (O'Brien)...

A friend of mine Cathal Dennehy, he's an athletics journalist, he made a really good point. He said that he hopes when Irish athletes are run out of semi-finals in the Olympics, that people remember remember the reaction to the Argentina game. Because athletics is a truly global sport yet we'll condemn our athletes for not being in the top eight and reaching a final, yet we celebrate failure with the rugby team.

As for this business of labelling them heroes and saluting their courage, MacKenna can only fall back on a quote from Homer Simpson.


It reminded me of the quote from that old Simpsons episode where Timmy fell down the well where Homer goes 'that little Timmy, he's a real hero'. And Lisa goes 'what makes him a hero Dad?' And Homer says 'well, he fell down a well and he can't get out.' I mean, what are they heroes for? They got to the last eight of a tournament where there are eight teams. Like, well done. Wow. Congratulations.

Read more: Bosnia Manager Confident Ahead Of Playoff With "Unpleasant" Irish




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