Lately I’ve got more and more into sports radio, from broadcast shows — Off the Ball (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 7pm, Sat-Sun 1pm), Game On (2FM, Mon-Fri 6pm), Sports Saturday and Sunday (Radio 1, 2pm) — to various podcasts, including ones by RTÉ plus this newspaper and others. I’m not sure if OTB:AM (Mon-Fri 7.30am) on YouTube counts for the purposes of this column, but that’s good too.
For one thing, sports radio isn’t full of Covid overkill, though Off the Ball tends to have a bit; I just sort of space out for the few minutes that it’s on and tune back in when they have moved away from it.
There’s great drama in sport — but crucially, unlike much of “the news”, this isn’t (literal) life or death. It’s just sport. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, which makes sport the perfect distraction, entertainment, spectacle and background noise.
This week was even more dramatic than usual, given the ongoing woes of Irish soccer. My youthful love for the national side has by now waned to almost total indifference — blame it on years of anti-GAA vitriol from certain “football people” — but there’s no denying the national soccer team is always one of the biggest stories in Irish sport.
It also doesn’t hurt that they’re usually mired in some class of crisis, controversy or calamity, off the field or on. Again, great entertainment.
At the moment, the problem lies, as they say, “between the white lines”, with an unprecedented awful run of never winning, hardly scoring and losing to a small tax haven with pretty mountain views.
I find myself having sympathy for Stephen Kenny, the beleaguered manager. He has carried himself with modest dignity. He has been ridiculously unlucky. And it’s hard to paint a masterpiece when you’ve only got the footballing equivalent of crayons and cardboard to work with.
An interesting aspect of the coverage — and there’s been a lot — was how reasonable it was. Indeed, more than once this week I heard broadcasters bemoan how sports media is overly reactive, immoderate and demanding; but they were wrong, including about themselves.
More than half of people called for calm, patience and more time for Kenny. Even those who felt he should step down did so in a measured way, explaining their reasons and not attacking him on a personal level.
My favourite line of the week came from OTB:AM’s John Duggan, quoting Spurs and Northern Ireland legend Danny Blanchflower: “The great fallacy is that the game is first and last about winning. It is nothing of the kind. The game is about glory, it is about doing things in style and with a flourish, about going out and beating the lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”