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Brennan profile dropped the ball

Lindsay Anderson's 1963 masterpiece This Sporting Life is generally regarded as one of the best films ever made about sport in general, the finest about rugby in particular, and a high point in the long and erratic career of the late Richard Harris.

Watching it today, you can still smell the mud and sweat, the passion and disillusionment. The RTE1 sports documentary series that casually borrows its name is, however, quite possibly the blandest thing I've encountered since that glass of water I had when I got out of bed yesterday morning.

The first episode of the second series told the story of fiery rugby player Trevor Brennan, a man with no shortage of mud or sweat, passion or disillusionment in his background. You can call Brennan many things, but bland certainly isn't one of them.

Yet over the course of 25 tepid minutes, This Sporting Life managed to relate the tale of Brennan's remarkable rise and brutal fall -- when he received a lifetime ban, later reduced to five years, for jumping into the crowd and punching an Ulster fan while playing for Toulouse -- in the most drab fashion imaginable.

It did a serviceable enough job of sketching out the Leixlip-born player's eventful career: his beginnings with local club Barnhall, the move to Bective Rangers and then St Mary's, and his ascension to the Leinster side in 1997.

Brennan won the first of his 13 Ireland caps in 1998, was part of that year's tour to South Africa and played in the 1999 World Cup, where an on-pitch scuffle during the game against Australia -- during which two Aussie players held Brennan while a third used him as a punchbag -- earned him a two-week suspension.

But the turning point came afterwards, when Brennan's candid, heat-of-the-moment comments to the press about the team's poor performance resulted in him being exiled from the Ireland set-up. It would be 18 months before he won another cap.

In 2001, disillusioned with Leinster and Ireland, Brennan returned to his first love, Barnhall, but then the career-changing offer to play for French side Toulouse came through.

Brennan had a glorious career with Toulouse, winning two Heineken Cup medals, until it all came crashing down with the punching incident in 2007. This Sporting Life dutifully plodded through all this, without ever offering a shred of real insight.

Brennan, interviewed at his home in Toulouse, where he runs a successful bar and is regarded by locals as a hero, was never probed for his deeper feelings about being shamefully ignored by Ireland while playing the best rugby of his life.

Nor did the programme delve into the details of the incident that ended his career. At the inquiry, Brennan claimed he lost his temper because the Ulster fan had been making abusive remarks about his mother; the fan and witnesses claimed he'd been baiting Brennan about the service at his bar.

Sport can be the stuff of great documentaries, but This Sporting Life, a typically lazy and perfunctory summer filler lacking in ambition, dropped the ball.

In the final episode of his charming and lovely The Private Life of . . ., Jimmy Doherty got down and dirty and learned to talk to his favourite animals, pigs. It seems they can communicate with one another -- and with a fair degree of sophistication, too -- via 15 distinct grunts.

Unfortunately for Jimmy, who's a pig farmer himself, his attempt at saying "Hello" in Piggish came out sounding a bit like a mating call. Luckily for him (although probably not for the pigs), Rebecca Loos was nowhere to be seen -- and if you don't understand that reference, Google her, okay?

We already knew pigs were affectionate, sensitive, intelligent animals -- just HOW intelligent, though, might make you think twice before eating pork or bacon again. Genuine food for thought.


This sporting life *

The private life of . . . pigs ****