Euro 2012 TV Watch: Eamon Dunphy’s post mortem on the analysis on Craig Doyle surprisingly worked
FIRST there was the game. Then there was the analysis of the game. And finally, in a surreal twist, we had the analysis of the analysis.
The last of those came during Craig Doyle Live, where panellists scrutinised the work of the previous programme's panellists - namely John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy.
The suspicion that RTE had decided to point a telescope at its own navel was not helped by the fact that the man leading Doyle's discussion was none other than Dunphy himself. He had walked along the corridor from the Euro 2012 studio, glass of wine in hand, ready to perform an autopsy on the post-mortem he had carried out just a few moments earlier.
Those of us who by now had begun to doubt the evidence of our senses, and who felt the need to watch the whole thing back on the RTE Player just to check we weren't hallucinating, found no help there.
One of the advertisements that the Player was showing before Craig Doyle Live was for UPC Broadband, an ad that was presented by ...Craig Doyle.
And yet Doyle's show had its moments. I won't spend too long analysing the analysis of the analysis but, surprisingly, it worked.
The reason is that, throughout Ireland's participation at Euro 2012, events off the pitch have been more compelling than those on it.
There has been some superb football but none of it by the Boys in Green. All the Irish action has been in the stands, in Polish pubs and, perhaps especially, on television.
The endlessly repeated choruses of The Fields of Athenry were rousing but singing when you're losing is not unique. Others have managed it, most famously when Liverpool were 3-0 down in the 2005 Champions League final (when the singing actually reinvigorated the team and had an impact on the result).
What is unique is the row that erupted when Roy Keane appeared to criticise the supporters, and which has rumbled ever since. As it happens, I think Keane's comments have been misconstrued but the merest suspicion that he'd had a go at the fans was enough to ignite the biggest debate of the competition so far.
There has been no comparable drama on the pitch. Generally, Ireland's performances have been almost too painful to watch.
Last night I found myself tempted to switch over to BBC1, where - in a humiliating but undeniably justified comment on the quality of our football - Match of the Day was showing Croatia vs Spain. Our game was relegated to BBC3.
It's true that Ireland improved last night but it was improvement from such a low base that it offered little comfort.
As bad as the football itself was the reminder of how mean-spirited we become in defeat.
We're not the only nation to do this, as demonstrated by countless failures by England (invariably blamed on refereeing mistakes or cheating foreigners or home-grown villains like David Beckham). But it's not a pretty sight.
No one on the RTE panel could bring himself to acknowledge that Mario Balotelli's goal was superbly taken, for example.
Over on BBC3, meanwhile, Mick McCarthy defied parody as he lamented umpteen Italian dives ("they drive you mad") and then not only failed to criticise Kevin Doyle's equally shameless fall, he praised him precisely BECAUSE he had gone to ground.
To paraphrase George Orwell, "The football fan not only does not disapprove of cheating committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for celebrating it".
But there is good news. Tournaments are always more enjoyable once Ireland are out of them. Not because our style of play is ugly (well, not just because of that) but because we can relax and enjoy the football. No stress, no morbid introspection, just some (hopefully) great entertainment.
It's all uphill from here. There's nowhere else to go.
I'm no fan of Italian football, either the ultra-defensive style of play or the culture of cheating both on and off the pitch, but there was something uplifting about the Azzuris' genuine outburst of joy when, after a nerve-wracking few minutes of waiting for the result of the Croatia game, they realised they had finally qualified.
Every time the referee put his whistle to his lips. He wasn't biased - he awarded ludicrous decisions against both teams - but his utter inability to spot dives threatened to reduce the game to an absurdity.