Wednesday 18 September 2019

Darragh McManus on the radio: Ash, flash and crash for the great day of the hurling people


Tommy Walsh of Kilkenny. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Tommy Walsh of Kilkenny. Photo: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Only one story really mattered this week, and that, obviously, was the All-Ireland hurling final. As Kilkenny legend Tommy Walsh put it in his already-fabled monologue to introduce coverage on Newstalk's Off the Ball (Mon-Fri 7pm, Sat-Sun 1pm), "This is the day of the hurling people!"

The station lost rights, last year, to live commentary: a disappointment for fans of both hurling and radio. Saturday and Sunday Sport (Radio 1, 2pm) are pretty decent, but on the whole, Off the Ball's coverage is better: more imaginative, lively, funny… just more entertaining.

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There's a fair bit to criticise on Off the Ball, particularly their incomprehensible obsession with rugby union - their World Cup preview will have been running for months by the time that competition finally lumbers into view. But when they do cover Gaelic games, it's good stuff, and Walsh's cri de coeur was typical of the kind of thing they bring.

I especially liked his memory of "jumping the stile" at his first final, aged four. A grand old tradition of the GAA, kids getting in for free; you wouldn't get away with that now. It's health and safety gone mad, innit?

Somewhat annoyingly, much of the post-match coverage focused on the red card "controversy", which wasn't, in fact, a controversy at all. An elbow to the head: if that's not a straight sending-off, we may tear up the rulebook altogether.

But radio loves controversy, even an invented one; most broadcasters, I suspect, are more comfortable discussing that sort of thing than the actual nuts and bolts of a sport. Possibly this is because they don't fully understand the technicalities of the game, I don't know.

But it is, and was, annoying, as heard across the aforementioned shows, as well as The Last Word (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm), Game On (2FM, Mon-Fri 7pm) and Today with Sean O'Rourke (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 10am), among others.

One show which appears to annoy others, though not your humble correspondent, is The Marty Squad (Radio 1, Sun 6pm). Look, I get it, the criticisms: it's corny, cheesy, lame, lazy, tired, pointless. I don't necessarily disagree with any of that.

But there's something sort of fun about The Marty Squad too, and isn't that the whole point of sport? So much of the analysis and discussion is so deadly serious and po-faced, as if this is impending war being talked about, and not a ball game being cheered on by families.

The Marty Squad doesn't take itself too seriously. And there's something endearingly amateurish about the whole thing, which I approve of - in these days when everything is slickly press-managed to within an inch of its life, it's a refreshing change, if nothing else.

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