Friday 15 December 2017

Radio: No escape from the samba beat

ON THE BALL: Bill O'Herlihy is hosting his last World Cup for RTE. Photo: Damien Eagers
ON THE BALL: Bill O'Herlihy is hosting his last World Cup for RTE. Photo: Damien Eagers

Eilis O'Hanlon

'The Copacabana is only a samba beat away ... I was going to say stone's throw." The presenter of Talk Sport's World Cup Kick Off should've stuck to his original intention. Since when was "samba beat" a recognised metaphor for a short distance? But listeners should probably get used to it for the next month, as desperate sports presenters shoehorn ever more random Brazilian references into their football commentaries.

Off the Ball's Joe Molloy at least made the effort to avoid the obvious. On Wednesday, he spoke from Salvador, Brazil's third city, but admitted there wasn't much sign of World Cup fever: "There are a few flags here and there, but only a few. There's no real sense of carnival." The reason being the mass protests continuing across Brazil. If football is the new "opium of the masses", as Molloy put it, there's not much sign Brazilians are so high on it yet that they're ignoring their other problems.

This would've been ideal territory for Today With Sean O'Rourke, but oddly there's been little discussion so far of the socio-economic elements of the World Cup – even though, surreally, O'Rourke actually managed on Wednesday to get 16 minutes into a 23-minute interview with Bill O'Herlihy on the eve of the RTE host's last tournament as presenter before mentioning football at all.

"I want to ask you two more questions about the World Cup," Sean said. "You didn't ask any so far, did you?" responded O'Herlihy with a chuckle. "Well," said O'Rourke, "in a peripheral way ... "

Very peripheral. Instead the conversation was dominated by lifelong Fine Gaeler Bill's relationship with Fianna Fail's Jack Lynch; his opinion of Enda Kenny ("underestimated", was the disappointingly loyal response); his longstanding belief that Fine Gael and Fianna Fail will eventually form an alliance; his work as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry as it campaigns to stop the move to plain packaging; and so on. It was all interesting, particularly his conviction that the health minister's plans would be an "El Dorado" for cigarette smugglers, but it wasn't football, which was surely the only reason O'Herlihy was there in the first place.

BBC Radio Five's Eleven Moments That Shocked The World Cup, meanwhile, looked at, well, the title was probably self-explanatory. From Zidane's infamous head butt, to Maradona's handball, to the murder of Colombian defender Escobar after he let in an own goal against the US, all the usual suspects were there – though, Roy Keane's controversial exit from Saipan was the one chosen to open the show, speaking volumes for the resonance that the incident still holds. In summary, the panel were less than impressed, whilst admitting that "he doesn't give the impression of a man who doubts his own actions". They even raised the disturbing question: "Was Roy Keane looking for a way out?"

Finally to Drama On One last Sunday, which featured The Quiet Land by Malachy McKenna, first prizewinner in this year's PJ O'Connor Awards, a deceptively simple but gripping play about two elderly farmers in an isolated part of the west of Ireland, "terrified every single night in our own home" by crime. "We're exiles in our own godforsaken land," as one summarised it. With the issue once more at the top of the political agenda, it was a timely reminder of the human cost, with characters whose lives and dilemmas felt heartbreakingly real.

Sunday Independent

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