I’ve just checked and I note that, of the eight teams in the All-Ireland Football quarter-finals, four are from Ulster. That’s quite an achievement and not one that’s received a lot of comment from the media. Maybe that’s because three of the teams – Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal – are from Ulster but not from Ulster-as-some-know-it. For example, I used to work in the University of Ulster. I remember when the name of the new university was announced, one staff member spent some time impressing on us all how lucky we were to have the word ‘Ulster’ in our title. She didn’t explain why we should feel lucky but she made it clear that we were very lucky. Had anyone asked if the Ulster in question included Donegal, Monaghan and Cavan, I suspect she would have considered that a question in very bad taste.
More relevantly, over the years I’ve been in and out of the BBC doing bits and pieces of one kind or another for near to thirty years. In all that time, I’ve never heard any of the staff express surprise or unease about the title ‘Radio Ulster’. Were they asked, I expect senior staff would reply that the Ulster they had in mind was the Ulster of Northern Ireland – i.e., the six counties. Any suggestion that the name Radio Ulster overstated the station reach would be dismissed as nit-picking.
Anyway, to get to the point. Let’s suppose (although I hate to even think of it) that Tyrone are knocked out of the competition on Saturday and the other three Ulster teams march on (an unlikely outcome but possible). Will Radio Ulster and BBC Television Northern Ireland continue to cover games with the same enthusiasm? Let’s say it’s a possible but unlikely scenario. Because, you see, the N Ireland team – Tyrone – will be gone, so what would be the point?
To even ask that question is to misunderstand the average Gaelic football fan. He or she will of course wish to see his/her team continue in the competition; but if they’re gone, that doesn’t mean their interest has ended. Is there a fan in the country who won’t want to see Dublin playing Cork? Or, say, Kerry playing Donegal? But be sure of this: they may watch such games on television, but it won’t be on BBC Northern Ireland television.
Who said politics had no place in sport?