Digital History at the GAA

The GAA has a duty to preserve and promote Gaelic Games. There’s no doubt that it is as commercial as any other sport in terms of what it offers to fans, broadcasters and commercial partners but perhaps because of its almost entirely local reach, it has to stand on its own feet to a greater extent than most.

A major part of sport, in general, is the collective experience and memories that it creates.

Earlier this month the GAA announced that it had completed the first phase of a digital archive bringing together most of the All Ireland Finals and the biggest games from the Provincial and Club Championships going back to 1961.

Highlights of the games are available free to view online through the GAA Now service and are proving to be a strong draw.

“The highlight packages are a little bigger than the bite-size chunks of content that modern consumption trends demand and those are the ones that we have pushed to the fore first,” said GAA Digital Content Manager Lisa Hayden speaking to us at the GAA Museum this week.

“Even within those seven minutes people are still dipping in and looking back on the bits that they remember, or sometimes think that they remember.”

The content is going back to another era but thanks to the incredible work of Nemeton TV in Waterford and funding from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, we have been able to apply the most up to date layering of tags and data.”

I could go into the website and watch back a near eight minutes of the 2001 All Ireland Hurling Final which I could only follow from Family text messages on the 18th floor of an office building in Hong Kong almost 18 years ago.

brendan Cummins without a helmet and without an ounce of fear. Tommy Dunne driving the ball in, Ger Canning’s commentary and a presentation of the Liam McCarthy Cup on the pitch are all elements that I had never seen before, apart from in my mind’s eye.

The danger is that it’s a classic rabbit hole and if time is of material value then tread carefully.

Thankfully my first All Ireland Final to attend, as a young man, Dublin’s win over Galway in 1983, is not yet available in the online archive. It was a testy affair and perhaps it needs to be cleared by the legal teams first.

“There are gaps to be filled but some of those are challenging due to the degradation of old film stock,” said Hayden. “We wanted to start the process though and to have as much as possible at this stage available to the public.”

The rights to the coverage of the games was always jointly held by broadcasters and the Association and they have been incredibly helpful in terms of opening up their archives so that we can in many ways save these moments from the march of time.”

It’s not something that was done in order to create something that would be of monetary value. In historical terms though it is priceless to be able to look back and relive the moments that mattered.”

“The reactions we have been getting from people talking about their own experience of being at a game, or indeed of not having made it because of the birth of a child or some other life moment, has been very special.”

Sport is great at moving forward. There is always another game to be played, another dream to be chased.

In treasuring the memory though of the people and the moments that have gone before, we get to place today and tomorrow in the context of yesterday and beyond. As a result of this first phase of the GAA archive we can do that a little easier. The archive will continue to grow into the future, and more of those gaps will be filled from the past.

Just don’t go into it if you have somewhere to be for the rest of the day.

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