Sunday 25 June 2017

Radio: All-Ireland final should be a cut above workaday footie

John Murray
John Murray
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Oh good God. Is this column spookily clairvoyant or what? Only last week I mischievously described the "classic" British political scandal as flamboyant and melodramatic, involving an Old Etonian who's distantly related to the queen and facing newspaper reports of some outlandish sexual indiscretion…

You know where this is going. So, having established my Nostradamus credentials, we shall swiftly and discreetly move along. But not too far along, because we're going to talk about the Rugby World Cup, which kicked off last weekend.

It's not too difficult to imagine Mr Cameron at Twickers, enjoying the match. Indeed, over half the England panel attended private schools.

I know Irish people play it, and Welsh and New Zealanders and so on. But rugby has always been seen by many people, rightly or wrongly, as the secular religion of the English ruling classes.

That might be one reason why the World Cup never quite catches fire here, the way its association football counterpart does. (Or as a friend of mine calls it, "the actual World Cup".)

Irish folks, I suspect, enjoy watching rugger on telly; but hardly any of them play it, and it probably doesn't mean as much, to as many, as soccer and GAA.

Not that the media haven't made a valiant effort to drum up interest. Someone or other remarked on radio over the weekend that there'd been surprisingly little hype about the tournament, but I don't think that's true - there's been plenty. People just don't care as much as the media thinks they do.

In fairness, that's not just relevant to rugby. There's far too much sport, of all kinds, on radio throughout the year. It's one of the greatest misconceptions about modern society, that "we all follow sport". Well, yeah, some of us do - lots don't.

And I'm not the biggest fan of the oval-ball game, but 'tis only polite to wish the Ireland team well. Indeed I don't really get all worked up anymore, over what sport someone is blithering on about. There's something depressing about seeing men in late middle-age still fuming about "bog ball" or "that soccer crowd" or whatever. Sure, each to their own.

In any case, the competition has begun, and Ireland got off to a winning start. Saturday Sport (Radio 1, 2pm) had live commentary with the redoubtable Michael Corcoran. I actually think there's something fundamentally pointless about live commentary on radio - surely you need to be looking at sport?

But I'm in the minority on that one, and Corcoran is one of the good guys of Irish radio. Cheerful, enthusiastic, well-informed and likeable: just what you want when, as Americans say, "calling the game". Although even Michael couldn't help me to understand any aspect whatsoever of this Byzantine pastime.

As an aside, John Murray has joined Saturday Sport, alongside sitting hosts Joanne Cantwell and Des Cahill, and it suits him. Murray's broadcasting style is laidback, playful and bloke-ish in a nice way - again, the right fit for sports.

The other major athletic event of the week was, of course, the All-Ireland football final. Sunday Miscellany (Radio 1, 9am) had a few nice All-Ireland related bits (and does 'The Rocky Road to Dublin' ever get tired?).

I didn't bother sticking with RTÉ's live commentary - pointless, etc - but on that subject, I must say it was slightly bizarre for Off the Ball (Sunday, 12pm) to cut from Dublin/Kerry coverage to commentary on a workaday Premier League game. That is a bit weird, isn't it? It's not just me? And it's not even particularly a "cultural nationalism" argument - though that's a wee part - but the All-Ireland football final only happens once a year, and is one of, if not the, biggest days in Irish sport.

I couldn't see Off the Ball, or any show, cutting from the Champions League final for, say, Round 3 of the hurling league. I appreciate they'd have bought rights for a number of soccer matches throughout the season, but so what? Drop one of 'em: it's the All-Ireland, for God's sake.

This didn't even make sense editorially. There was lots of build-up, pre-match analysis, atmosphere-building, the whole bit. Then they virtually ignore the game itself. All very strange, especially considering the show generally is pretty damn fine, and in Dave McIntyre and Joe Molloy they have a commentator and host as good as anyone.

Incidentally, I wonder will Off the Ball be cutting to Premier League action should Ireland qualify for the Rugby WC final? As sports broadcasters are forever saying, "We shall see…"

The final match of the GAA season brought us to the final Marty Squad (Radio 1, Sun 6pm) of the year. It's been enjoyable, lively, sometimes silly, basically a lot of fun.

And it's important to remember not to take this stuff too seriously. It's just a game, right?

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