Friday 18 January 2019

Veteran O Muircheartaigh still the best in the business Sarcastic Spillane no match for Mich?al

In light of last week's Final Whistle, which poked fun at the world of soccer media, and in the spirit of balance, we shall this week take a sideways glance at the valiant men who interpret the GAA for us, via the media of television and radio. (Or should that be meedja?)

We rely almost completely on the media to bring us English football (uber-fans will travel over for a game or two each season).

But with big GAA matches, because we can go to the games ourselves week in and week out and form our own opinions on events, we are in a better position to analyse the media's spin.

There has been one seismic shift in this year's championship coverage on TV, one that may well see 2003 go down in infamy.

With the amount of games greatly increased by the backdoor system in both championships, RTE has found that Michael Lyster, the long time Sunday Game anchor man, is over-stretched and in need of assistance.

This has brought about the toe curling sight of Pat Spillane presenting the evening highlights show.

There are billboards at grounds around the country advertising Pat's Sunday World column.

They come in twos - one that asks 'Love him?' and one that asks 'Hate him?'. Anecdotal evidence suggests they needed have bothered with the former. I have never met a Spillane fan.

Spillane clearly sees himself as the GAA's agent provocateur, a loose cannon in the mould of Eamonn Dunphy, who is not afraid to tell it like it is.

This is both admirable and necessary, but since he has moved chairs he seems to have forgotten that he is now responsible for bringing balance and measure to the discussion. Bill O'Herlihy he ain't.

At the best of times he sees himself as something of a wit, and one can imagine him switching on the light at 4am to scribble down a third rate pun about Ulster football and giggling into his Green and Gold pyjamas sleeve.

However, his jokes are either hugely contrived or simply sarcastic and elicit nothing more than groans from all witnesses. He doesn't have the self deprecation of, say, rugby mouthpiece George Hook, whose hilarious bluster and pomp is always underpinned by a knowing wink that is missing in Spillane.

Final Whistle read an interview with him years ago where he described how, on being knocked out of the championship in his last year as a player, he was berated from the stands by Kerry fans. This pushed him past caring what people thought of him and made him determined to never pull his punches on anything again. F*** the begrudgers. For this, he is a valuable commodity and might yet blossom into a dissident of Dunphy's calibre. Then people really will love him or hate him.

Most of the other football pundits on RTEare likeable and watchable, but as is the case with every TV sports pundit the world over, fatally flawed. Maybe it's because we see so much of them, but perfectly good TV pundits have a way getting under the skin every so often.

Joe Brolly is entertaining but smug, Colm O'Rourke is measured and informative, if a little dull.

New boy Bernard Flynn has the a tendency for Ron Atkinson-esque gaffes ('That looks like the round of the tie'; 'If there's one thing they need it's two midfielders').

On the hurling front, Ger Loughnane is the pick of the bunch - likeable, animated, intelligent and edgy.

His sing song accent seems perfectly suited as he spews forth passionately about the game.

But anyone who remembers his fiery tenure at the helm of the Clare hurlers watches half afraid that at any moment Loughnane might erupt and literally bite Miche‡l Lyster's head off.

Rub Loughnane up the wrong way and sparks will fly. We have yet to see it but we will someday.

Miche‡l Duignan, Tomas Mulcahy, Pete Finnerty et al, are all no-nonsense men and Spillane's giddy probings are often met with blank stares and swift side steps.

Marty Morrisey and Lyster are the Sunday Game's old pros, almost as familiar now as the programme's jaunty theme.

But when it comes to GAA coverage, there is one true king - up in the gantry, the oft-quoted and much loved Miche‡l O Muircheartaigh.

Sometimes more of a beat poet or a freestyle rapper than GAA mic-smith, the great Miche‡l imbues matches with a kind of mystical realism that is all his very own. Can there be a commentator anywhere in the world that can bring a game to life with such evocative language? His delivery is like a stream of consciousness that flows at the same pace as the game.

The only downside of our love affair with Miche‡l is receiving the emails and overhearing the conversations in pubs that tell and retell the same six or eight Miche‡l quotes. You know the ones. Joe Rabbitte and Pat Fox. The one about Sean Og O'Halpin. The one about buying the Kerryman in New York and so on and so on. All classics, but someone needs to write down some new Miche‡l quotes - he comes out with them every week.

With Ger Canning as the TV commentator in chief, many people will turn down the sound on the telly and turn up the radio so they get Miche‡l's commentary.

Going up against O Muircheartaigh is no mean task, but Canning is like the anti-Miche‡l. While his knowledge of the game seems fairly good, his commentarys are a little too reserved and monotone to really get the blood going. Compared with the hoarse passion of O'Muircheartaigh, Canning is Alan Partridge-like in his tone and delivery.

A special word is reserved for the impressive Cyril Farrell who is often teamed with Canning.

Whenever he sees a sub coming on for his championship debut he always says 'I hear great things about this fella, he was a great minor and he's got all the skill. Watch him Ger, this fella's going to be revved up for this.'

One could be forgiven for thinking he must have a huge database named 'Tasty young hurlers' at home on the computer. But really he just knows his stuff.

Now did you hear the one about when Miche‡l said 'Still no relation..?'