Tuesday 27 September 2016

Television: When gridiron met bog ball

* The Toughest Trade, RTE 2
* The Restaurant, TV3

Published 19/03/2016 | 02:30

Swap: Mayo GAA footballer Aidan O’Shea trains with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers in RTE show ‘The Toughest Trade’.
Swap: Mayo GAA footballer Aidan O’Shea trains with the NFL’s San Diego Chargers in RTE show ‘The Toughest Trade’.

One of the things that happen as you get older is that you begin to develop an appreciation for... well, not necessarily the finer things in life, but things you would certainly have sneered at when you were younger.

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I'd never have suspected I would become an aficionado of Gaelic games, for example. Okay, I still haven't, not really.

But where once I used to dismiss such games as baffling folly I found myself, in recent years, stunned by the sheer skill, courage and hand-eye coordination that goes into being a good hurler and while I will never - never! I tells ya - warm to Gaelic football, I've even developed a certain appreciation for the athleticism and physical power of some of the players.

Maybe it's something to do with having a wife from Mayo - it's important to do one's bit for urban/rural relations, don't you think? - but having watched the likes of Ciaran McDonald rampage his way through the opposing midfield, I was often struck by what a waste that was. After all, the Crossmolina man had the kind of balance off both shoulders and dancing feet that would have made him a perfect out-half.

If arguing about the merits of one sport over another is a bit like arguing the merits of one religion over another - pointless and likely to lead to blows - there is something undeniably intriguing about how stars from one code would translate to another.

Which is what makes The Toughest Trade such a consistently rewarding programme.

Aidan O'Shea is one of the country's finest footballers and has the physique of a decent wing-forward so his attempt to make the grade in gridiron was not as utterly daft as it first appeared.

As he tried out in the legendarily tough NFL 'combine', where players train with and against each other as they prepare for a pro-career, one thing became clear - he's one of those irritating sods who would have excelled at whatever sport he happened to grow up with.

Impressing the professional coaches with his pace and power and impressive catching ability, O'Shea looked, at one point, as if he was seriously considering a move Stateside until reality kicked in: "At the end of the day, I play the game that I love. Obviously, if someone came and offered me a contract to play in the NFL, it might be a different story. It's such a massive sport."

Not surprisingly, but hardly damningly, he wasn't offered a contract but the coaches seemed sufficiently impressed to remark that if he stuck with it, he might have had a shot.

O'Shea looks every inch the modern sports star, even down to the now obligatory hipster haircut, and while Mayo football fans will breathe a large sigh of relief that he is sticking with them it certainly opened the possibility of other Gah stars moving to America.

And here's a question nobody has ever answered - why don't more place kickers from rugby try their luck at being a kicker in the NFL?

They have less time to prepare their kicks, but they're always in a straight line and I imagine a lucrative contract awaits the first lad to make the jump.

The Toughest Trade is sponsored by a bank, and, unfortunately, we live in a time when an entire generation has grown up feeling comfortable with the idea of corporate sponsorship.

For us old fogies - I can still remember a time when Dave Couse, singer with the greatest Irish band of all time, A House, ripped a backdrop off the stage because it had the sponsor's logo on it - the idea of allowing a company to pay for your product was something dirty and shameful.

Of course, when it comes to the really important things in life - which would be music and comedy, obviously - there has to be a divide between the artist and the money men. I've always admired Bill Hicks's maxim that once an performer takes the corporate dollar they are off the artistic roll call forever - of course, Hicks being Hicks he put it in rather more colourful terms, but I'll leave that up to you to find.

But does that purity stretch as far as the more prosaic pursuit of television programmes?

As enjoyable as The Toughest Trade undoubtedly was, I doubt anyone who has had their house repossessed in recent years will have been of a mind to watch a programme made by the people who took their gaff from them.

The Restaurant doesn't so much engage in product placement with the sponsor as provide an hour-long corporate video. That's fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn't go very far - the sight of professional chefs using store-bought mayonnaise as opposed to making their own was a sign that this is about flogging produce, not making the best food they can.

This week's episode had been billed as a massive showdown between the two judges, Marco Pierre White and the always agreeable Tom Doorley, but that fell as flat as last night's soufflé.

The guest chef, former presidential candidate Sean Gallagher, was a mere extra because the judges are there to show off, the staff are there to show off and, most insufferably of all, the diners go there to show off. There's no need to provide cheese or ham on the menu because the know-all guests provide enough of their own, but I did snigger when one punter opined that the food was like 'something you'd get at a function.'

"What? Like a funeral?" replied another.

Ah, everyone's a critic.

Irish Independent

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