Thursday 29 September 2016

A trip down memory lane wraps up a great week for sporting telly

Apres Match Of The Day, RTE 2
* Second Captains Live, E4
* Tonight with Vincent Browne, TV3

Published 12/09/2015 | 02:30

Social satire: Apres Match of the Day made a welcome return
Social satire: Apres Match of the Day made a welcome return

TV scheduling is an art in itself. A sort of high-wire balancing act, it's all about getting the right strand of programmes to run in an order which will keep the viewer tuned to that channel for as much of the evening as possible.

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So while anyone with a funny bone was looking forward to Apres Match Of The Day, the anonymous RTE scheduler must have known that it was a risk to stick the show on straight after the match against Georgia.

Sure, that has been the team's usual slot.

But with so much riding on that game, there was the very real possibility that we could have blown it against the Georgians and wasted the advantage we received when Scotland tripped up and put us in the driving seat.

Sure, it's a driving seat which will only take us as far as a third place play-off but beggars and Irish football fans can't be choosers, although I rather imagine that if we had blown our good fortune by only securing a draw, or worse, against Monday night's opponents then many of us wouldn't have been in the mood to laugh at the weird foibles and bizarre landmarks provided by our national team down the years.

That would have been a shame because the newly reformatted style worked brilliantly.

Having taken the eminently sensible step of devoting a full programme to one particular tournament in our team's history, episode one dealt with the now dim and distant days of Italia 90 and the shoot-out against Romania.

In many ways, that tournament was the beginning of some deep suspicions over the style of football and the shameless bandwagoneering of new fans who had never expressed any interest in the game before then. Let's put it this way, the night before we qualified for Euro 88, Ireland beat Israel 5-0 in in front of fewer than 5,000 fans in Dalymount Park.

A mere two years later, of course, and everyone was part of - ugh - Jackie's Army. What was particularly notable about this archive show was the fact that they seemed to have recreated an entire society that I simply didn't recognise.

After all, the summer of 1990 was the summer of house music, E, all-night raves, New Order doing World In Motion and teenage debauchery (well, it was for me, anyway).

Yet looking at the TV ads from the time, was an utterly surreal experience and even the joyously demented fake voice overs couldn't match the almost out-of-body experience of reminding yourself that we once had commercials urging us to pay our TV licence out of the goodness of our hearts, rather than the modern versions which just threaten people who don't pay.

Similarly, I was struck by the ad for the long-forgotten Soda Stream machines and then I realised why - widely derided now as the epitome of naff, Soda Stream was simply the Nespresso machine of the time.

These ads weren't so much a walk down memory lane. In fact, the experience was more akin to being drugged and kidnapped and dragged down the alley way of unwilling recollection.

If the ads were bizarrely memorable, the football on offer was anything but. Still, few moments in our lives will ever match the tension of that penalty shoot-out against Romania and surely even the real Eamon Dunphy would have sniggered at the sound of Gary Cooke's Dunphy laying bets on the phone to his bookie (and then pretending it was a prank call when his predictions went against him) .

The Apres Match team have long been as much about social satire as taking the mickey out of football commentary, and the fake footage of Joe Duffy and Brenda Donohue interviewing pissed-up football fans was almost indistinguishable from the real footage, which only added to the sheer weirdness of the whole experience.

Yes, the country lost its marbles, and Italia 90 marked the moment when people began to look on every big match as just an excuse to take the day off work and get locked, but there was an innocence then that quickly evaporated.

Don't bother looking for this on the RTE Player, copyright issues mean it won't be uploaded, but next week's special, focusing on Liam Brady's debut against the USSR promises to be a cracker.

Nostalgia hasn't been this good for a long, long time.

As much fun as it is to give RTE a good shoeing every now and then (only when it's deserved, obviously, which it frequently is), they also do the occasional thing really, really well and that tends to be their sporting coverage.

Second Captains Live made a welcome return this week and this most ecumenical of sports talk shows once again managed to bring people from different sporting codes together to share their expertise.

Brian Kerr, James Horan and Anthony Daly may all have managed different teams in different sports, but they have also all reached the top of their respective games, (apart from Horan, who continues the honourable Mayo tradition of failing to capture an All Ireland). It doesn't really matter whether your favourite sport is hurling, Gaelic football or real football, the three of them all had genuinely fascinating insights into the mind of the manager, not least when they were talking about Robbie Keane and how to approach a much-loved and much-needed player who is obviously coming to the end of the line.

It was particularly interesting to see Kerr's no-nonsense approach to Keane's inevitable decline. After all, he nurtured Keane through the underage ranks and would know him better than, perhaps, any other manager the Tallaght forward has worked with. But there was no old pal's act, just brutal honesty, which is usually something that is in perilously short supply in sporting discussions.

The stand-out moment from last season was a riveting and occasionally uncomfortable interview with the mercurial Mayo maestro

Ciaran McDonald, who could make even a Gah-phobe like myself sit up and take notice whenever he was playing, if only to bemoan what a great out-half he could have been.

The true strength of this show is the sheer intellectual curiosity of the presenters and the fact they don't feel the need to display their own prodigious knowledge of sport, unlike some of their British counterparts.

Between Second Captains Live on the telly and Off The Ball on the radio (and their half-hour simulcast on Setanta Sports, of course) we're well served by our sports broadcasters.

Now if only the teams they talk about could match such casual expertise.

It's been a sporting theme to the column this week, and viewers who turned into Vincent Browne will have tuned in hoping to see some bloodsports.

Apparently, there were 'chaotic' scenes in Clontarf the other night when a pre-recorded show became rather heated.

A woman claimed she had been intimidated by anti-water protestors, there was talk of the cops being called and the whole thing sounded like great fun altogether.

Unfortunately, viewers who tuned in were denied the delightful prospect of a rumble breaking out in the studio and Browne ripping his shirt off before saying that he would bleedin' batter anyone who gave him jip - because the whole kerfuffle was edited out.

For shame, TV3! For shame!

Irish Independent

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