Entertainment Television

Tuesday 15 October 2019

'The Sunday Game': Making the Party Last since 1979

  • The Sunday Game (RTE2)
RTÉ presenter Joanne Cantwell with The Sam Maguire Cup and The Liam MacCarthy Cup
RTÉ presenter Joanne Cantwell with The Sam Maguire Cup and The Liam MacCarthy Cup
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

A friend of mine in Wicklow was concerned about the fact the preliminary round of the Leinster Championship between Wicklow and Kildare was being held in Carlow. He just couldn't figure it out - why Carlow? Why not Wicklow or indeed Kildare? If it had been held in the Wicklow county ground in Aughrim, he might even have gone to it himself, making the journey from his home near Arklow.

Now he was on the horns of a dilemma because his own devotion to Wicklow football, if it could be measured in terms of distance, would extend all the way from near Arklow to Aughrim, but no further than that. And only in the most exceptional circumstances would it stretch as far as Carlow.

These were not such circumstances, as it seemed certain Wicklow would lose, and indeed they did.

Meanwhile in Kildare, no doubt there were folks in a similar predicament, wondering why the GAA had chosen a "neutral" venue for the game, as if to make it equally unattractive to both parties, to avoid the possibility one might be favoured over the other with home advantage.

Yes, far better that everyone be unhappy.

It is a wondrous organisation, the GAA, and for many of us the "neutral" venue, as it were, has been The Sunday Game. It is now 40 years since the famous theme music blared out of the screens, a brassy number that is similar in style to the legendary BBC Match of the Day theme - except, of course, the BBC would have put that one together in its Department for Legendary Theme Music, while The Sunday Game went straight for the hearts of the gaels with a track taken off a James Last album.

So they've been Making the Party Last, since 1979.

And there's no doubt that is how they'd describe it, on the show itself - Making the Party Last has that perfect The Sunday Game ring to it, avoiding the snares of linguistic complexity, going instead for the upbeat solution in all its obviousness.

Thus, a game in Wexford or Waterford will always be taking place in the "sunny south-east", unless in the most exceptional circumstances - Storm Ophelia is the only thing that could stop the eternal sunniness of the south-east.

But last week "it was matters down south which took centre stage", there was talk of "a carnival atmosphere", and we were not in Cork, we were, of course, "on Leeside".

What a scene it was between Cork and Tipp, with parts of the grand old city visible beyond the stands of Pairc Ui Chaoimh. You can see parts of many Irish cities and towns when you're watching The Sunday Game - no matter how engaging the action in the field, the eye is invariably drawn to some local housing on the perimeter, some of it not quite as salubrious as the outskirts of Cork.

So you get a sense of Ireland as we would like to be, and Ireland as we are. A sense of Paddy with the sun on his back, and of his more mundane existence.

And always there is something happening that is "unreal". You see things that are almost unimaginable in another setting - there was that "unreal" moment last week at Nowlan Park when a maor foirne (team assistant) for the Dublin hurlers came onto the pitch just as Kilkenny were taking a free -and when the Kilkenny player passed the ball in the general direction of the maor, intended for a team-mate, the maor just caught it and walked away to face the incandescent rage of the Kilkenny Cats which he knew must be coming.

Bob Dylan and Neil Young will be playing Nowlan Park later this summer, but not even they could make that stuff up, and they have been making up stuff for a very long time. Longer even than The Sunday Game.

It's unreal.

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