Sunday 16 June 2019

Tommy Bowe - The End Game review: 'It did rather suffer from the lack of dramatic stakes'

Tommy Bowe and Paul McGrath on Tommy Bowe - The End Game, RTE One
Tommy Bowe and Paul McGrath on Tommy Bowe - The End Game, RTE One

Ed Power

Irish rugby’s golden generation has been slouching into the sunset for some time now. Brian O’Driscoll has eased into a life of punditry; Ronan O Gara has transitioned into a Roy Keane figure, seeming perpetually peeved whether offering opinions as television panelist or pacing the touch-line as coach.

Latest to curtsy to the inevitable is 34 year-old Tommy Bowe, the golden generation’s golden boy, who arguably became as famous, certainly among non-rugby fans, for his impish smile as for his prowess on the pitch.

The idea behind The End Game (RTE One) is that the audience would experience at first hand the highs and lows (and it was mostly lows) of Bowe’s farewell season with Ulster. Along the way, Bowe would talk to other prominent athletes about the existential challenge with which all sports people must ultimately wrestle: walking away at the right time, with dignity intact.

On the field, things were ho-hum. After a string of injuries, Bowe is no longer in the Ireland squad and, by the conclusion of his farewell season, struggling to hold his place on the Ulster team-sheet.

This might have been heartbreaking had Bowe been the type to invest everything in sport. But he’s already dipped a toe in TV work – Tommy Bowe’s Bodycheck aired on RTE in 2013 – and has a career as “brand ambassador” and as well as his own clothing and footwear lines. Hanging up his boots isn’t the end of the world.

Still, he clearly felt a pang as he prepared to step away and so, to deepen his understanding of the trials ahead (and fill a 60-minute documentary), he interviewed a number of retired athletes.

Nothing replaces the buzz of victory, jockey AP McCoy confided – adding that, compared to what everyone else has to do to earn a living, sport didn’t even quality as real work.

Clare hurler Conor Ryan meanwhile shared the pain of involuntary early retirement, caused in his case by issues with his pituitary gland.

The biggest contrast, however, was between the perspectives of Olympian Derval O’Rourke and former soccer international Paul McGrath. O’Rourke had decided, while driving from Cork to Dublin, that the old hunger was no longer there and stepped away with a minimum of misgivings.

McGrath, by comparison, quit only when it was plain to him that he could no longer function effectively on a soccer field. His greatest fear, he confided, was that he’d have to go home to Dublin and work as a roofer, one of his first jobs out of school.

Bowe was charming yet perhaps not quite angsty enough to strike a meaningful connection with viewers. The cheeky chappy persona that made him so popular on the field has endured off it and he will clearly be just fine in the real world.

To truly tug at the heart-strings, his exit from rugby needed to be framed as some sort of tragedy. Luckily for him it isn’t. But The End Game Did did rather suffer from the lack of dramatic stakes.

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