Saturday 7 December 2019

RTE panel was right all along, but we didn't want to know

Maybe austerity has finally cut the gossamer thread that connected us to our rational selves

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Let me take you back to the night that Ireland drew with Germany, equalising in the last minute. Let me take you back in particular to the RTE studio and the verdict of the panel, led by John Giles, that the result did not reflect the true nature of Ireland's performance.

According to Giles, Ireland in general had been poor, lacking in creativity and ambition until the Germans scored and they were finally forced to play in a more positive style - which proved that Ireland were indeed capable of more than they had been showing for most of the game. But that all things considered, on the evidence of what we had seen, they were probably a bit behind Poland and Scotland at this stage.

What the panel was doing there, was telling us something that we didn't want to hear. Which, when you think about it, is probably the essence of what they are supposed to be doing, on such a night.

Any eejit, after all, in that time of elation after a late equaliser against a formidable opponent, can declare that everything is great and this is a magnificent night for Ireland.

So if there is any point at all in having a few pundits on the television, it is precisely to declare that sometimes, Ireland getting a vital result away to the world champions may not be an occasion of undiluted celebration - that it may reveal certain weaknesses which need to be fixed if we want to be doing any more celebrating.

Indeed, you could say that the RTE panel with the classic formation of Giles, Brady, and Dunphy was at its strongest on that night, upholding the first principles of their trade. Telling us something that we didn't want to hear.

And they were monstered for it.

For days afterwards, there was a great outpouring of hostility and even ridicule, all of Ireland apparently speaking with one voice - what was wrong with these guys? How could they miss the point so horribly, cribbing like the bunch of poor ould fellas that they so clearly have become ? Do they not have a responsibility to reflect the mood of the nation?

Leaving aside the fact that a Mr John Delaney was handling that side of things, "an Irishman singing an Irish song", with fierce commitment to the cause, it must be stated that the answer is no, the RTE panel does not have a responsibility to reflect the mood of the nation, and in fact the reason that they have gained such a reputation is mainly on account of their reluctance to reflect anything but their own mood, which is what they are employed to do.

Dion Fanning was a lone voice when he admired the panel's refusal to pander, suggesting that the Germans themselves might appreciate the deeply rational approach of Giles.

Anyway, there the matter rested until the next match in the group, when Ireland played Scotland and lost.

Let me take you back now to last weekend and to the days in the immediate aftermath of that defeat, when it seemed that again, all of Ireland spoke with one voice.

But this time that voice was strangely familiar. In fact, at times it sounded very like the voice of John Giles, to such an extent that you could have taken what Giles said about Ireland after the Germany match, and substitute it for what they were all saying about Ireland after the Scotland match, and really, there would be no difference - except this time, of course, any eejit could point out these failings, because we had lost the game.

This time, to declare that we were a bit behind Poland and Scotland was to reflect the mood of the nation.

And was there a word of admission from any of these mood-reflectors on radio and TV and in the papers and across the online universe that, eh, by the way, they had been mistaken and the men they had excoriated had been right?

Well, no.

Would any of them be making up for their wrong-headedness with some small gesture of acknowledgement ?

Well, no.

Which tells us a couple of things.

It suggests that there's nothing wrong with journalism now that hasn't always been wrong with it, going back to the days of Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and what he called "Mego" - my eyes glaze over.

"Reflecting the mood of the nation" is traditionally a rich source of Mego.

And maybe our old friend Austerity is in there too. With Austerity, we have been told so many things that we don't want to hear, and so much of that has been bullshit, maybe we're just unable to hear that voice any more, anything that sounds a bit, shall we say, Germanic - how else can you explain a situation in which virtually everyone who expresses a view can be looking down on John Giles for his poor judgement of a football matter?

Yes, it could be the abysmal creed of the money-men which has done this to us, that the years of coercion have finally cut the gossamer thread that connected us to our rational selves, and have "taken away the little bit of sense" we had - a line there from the song Fitba Crazy.

It is a Scottish song, but an Irishman can sing it too.

Sunday Independent

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