Wednesday 18 October 2017

Lovely hurling... a radio masterclass for All-Ireland final

Former Kilkenny star turned pundit, Tommy Walsh. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Former Kilkenny star turned pundit, Tommy Walsh. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

For me, and many, many people like me, the first Sunday in September means one thing only: the All-Ireland hurling final.

It is, to use the cliché du jour, "the only show in town". So much so, in fact, that all you need to say is "the first Sunday in September" and your mean is instantly conveyed.

Why is this day - and the football and camogie deciders, over the next few weekends - so special? I think All-Ireland finals say something essential about Irishness.

Yes, I know "Irishness" is a broad church. I don't expect everyone to have an interest in GAA. But Gaelic games are, objectively, something unique to this place and us as people; and the big days in September are that uniqueness, writ large and getting larger.

If a foreign visitor was to ask, "Try to encapsulate Ireland for me", I'd point them towards the All-Irelands. Not towards an Irish band (though there've been many great ones) or Irish movie (ditto) or the Ireland soccer team playing Serbia on Tuesday (and more power to them).

All-Ireland finals say it all, and it's a really cool thing. People talk all the time about cultural diversity - well, here it is. Irish games, Irish music, Irish language, Irish idiosyncrasies and glories and absurdities: in an increasingly homogenised global village, that's cultural diversity at its finest. It makes here, and the world, a better place.

As usual, RTÉ Radio 1 excelled in their coverage - they really come into their own around major events like this. We began the day, as is traditional, with some All-Ireland-themed essays on Sunday Miscellany (10am): 'Up for the Match' by Paddy Moran, 'The West's Awake' from Orlaith Mannion, 'Soaring Sliotar' by Jack Hanna.

On Sunday Sport (1pm), they went all-in, with live commentary of the minor and senior finals, plus extensive pre-, post- and during-match analysis. I've probably said this before: I'm not a huge fan of live match commentary. There's something lacking, for me; that something being the pictures. But I appreciate how much others enjoy it - the listenership figures would seem to bear that out.

And towards the end of Galway's well-deserved victory over Waterford, as the voices of commentator Pauric Lodge and analyst Brendan Cummins rose ever higher in pitch and excitement and passion… well, it was hard not to get swept up in it.

Radio 1 followed with The Marty Squad (6pm), a customarily good-humoured hour of chat, fun and colour. And kudos also to Off the Ball (Newstalk, Sun 1pm), for very entertaining coverage throughout the day.

I've given out, more than once, about the show's infatuation with soccer and (shudder) rugby, to the detriment of Gaelic games - which, I'm sorry, it seems weird to me on an Irish station. But to give due credit, their GAA commentary over the last few years was very good, especially the innovations with pitch-side analysts; Off the Ball really made full use of the broadcasting sidekick.

They were, in my opinion, unfairly stripped of live commentary rights earlier this year. But, in that admirable Newstalk way, the show adapted and made the best of limited resources, while keeping their trademark energy, enthusiasm and sense of fun.

And Tommy Walsh! Who'd have thought it? Tommy Walsh, Kilkenny dervish, terror of a generation of half-forward lines… and he's a brilliant pundit. Smart, insightful, funny. It'd almost make me forgive him for 2011. (Almost.)

Now if only Off the Ball would drop 'Monday Night Rugby' for more GAA. Or anything, really. Ten-pin bowling. Donkey Kong. Connect 4. It's all good.

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