Wednesday 13 December 2017

Saturday View: Outspoken pundits are simply par for the course

Sean Diffley

The bombastic American TV sports pundit of not so long ago, Howard Cosell, of whom it was said, "Cosell doesn't broadcast sport, he broadcasts Cosell", posed the question on a sociable evening in Toots Shor's.

"How many great sportscasters do you guys think there are?"

The riposte from Red Smith, the famed 'New York Times' sports columnist, was: "One less than you think, Howard".

This side of the Atlantic, as we observe the posturings on our own channels, it is appropriate to borrow that line in relation to so many of our own pundits: "A few less than they think".

That rebuff by Smith is surely a classic instance of the pundit not getting the last word. They usually do, don't they? And so Rory McIlroy was unwise to trade tweets with the American TV guy, Jay Townsend, a minor golfer but now, in his TV after-life, proclaimed an expert.

Was it worth it, Rory? Well when you're 22 you make mistakes.

Of course, we have many sports pundits on TV and radio who perform admirably, but the presence of some others reflects the thinking that producing outspoken characters can bolster ratings.

Some of our Howard Cosell types are as hard-necked as dinosaurs were reputed to be.

One gentleman of that particular school was noted in his active sporting days for performing with a lack of intestinal fortitude. But on TV he constantly tongue-lashes the sportsmen for, allegedly, lacking the very virtues he probably didn't possess.

Something like the salesman Rex Harrison played in 'The Rake's Progress' kicking the car wheels to persuade the buyer he knew something about what he was talking about.

But we should also give credit where credit is due. In horse racing, for instance, is there a better collection of pundits anywhere than RTE's panel of Robert Hall, Ted Walsh, Tony O'Hehir and Tracy Piggott?

And then there is Colm O'Rourke and Pat Spillane, peerless in their knowledge of Gaelic football, and I don't care what ye say down there.

John Giles and the rest of the panel are earnest and informative in their analysis, which is in sharp contrast to the woolly offerings of the BBC and Gary Lineker. In golf, I revere Peter Alliss.

In cross-channel racing, Clare Balding is excellently professional with a deep knowledge of her sport, but John McEnroe at Wimbledon?

As was written back in 1980, "The Benson and Hedges Cup was won by McEnroe... he was as charming as always, which means that he was a charming as a dead mouse in a loaf of bread." Which means, a decade on, that McEnroe is still charming.

As for, er, TV information technology, there was the bit of snooker commentary before we all had colour sets.

"He's going for the pink, and for those of you with black and white sets, the yellow is behind the blue."

Drive you to have a quick swallow of the black stuff, wouldn't it?

Irish Independent

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