'It has moved on to another level' - Après Match hero Risteárd Cooper on ridiculous TV punditry
As Risteárd Cooper looks back on his two decades as one of faces of RTÉ’s enduringly successful Après Match, he is somewhat bemused by the landscape of sports broadcasting that has now become the norm.
When Cooper and his innovative pals Barry Murphy and Gary Cooke first appeared on our screens in the build-up to the 1998 World Cup finals, their devious Après Match sketches ridiculing the analytical of Eamon Dunphy, Liam Brady and the RTÉ soccer panel proved to be an instant hit.
Now, in an exclusive interview with Independent.ie, Cooper has reflected that concept dreamed up as one-off specials has continued to attract huge television audiences in a sporting landscape now dominated by more sporting analysis than ever before.
“Our idea was to tap into the ridiculousness of TV analysis and the amount of endless talk there was before and after games,” he begins.
“It was taking the mickey out of the need of that. Do we need an opinion on why it was off-side or why a player is no good?
“Even if the person telling is this information has played they game, the amount of time and coverage afforded to the analysis has always struck me as being over the top and a little ridiculous. The nature of stating the obvious comes up time and again after games, but it is still give huge prominence.
“In a way, what we have done has not diluted the analysis of sport and it has almost promoted a boom in the phenomenon. We may have though that if we took the mickey out of it too much, people would realise how ridiculous it all was, but it has moved on to another level now.
“We now live at a time when we have endless hour of television each week filled with people sitting around a table talking about sport and essentially talking sh*** in the belief that what they are saying is profoundly important. It never ceases to amaze me how much airtime is now wasted on this nonsense.
“Also, when I see some of the websites kids are working on now and they are basically producing the kind of videos we made 20 years ago and using that model. It is amazing that we came up with this parody concept before these kids were born is now popular all over again in this social media age.”
Cooper admits he has lived his dream being a part of a sports-based show and getting the chance to meet some of his idols over the course of his career, with his other job as a working actor fitting neatly around his Après Match commitments.
“I have been obsessed with sport, with football and rugby and I still get tongue-tied if I meet a big international star from one of our national teams,” he continues. “I never get star-struck meeting actors, but sports people are different.
“It is amazing how well Après Match has gone down with the players from past eras. I guess these lads don’t always get remembered as time moves on, but our show has helped to keep them in the public eye.
“Our ex-players seem pleased to be remembered even if we are taking the mickey out of them by the way we do the show.
“Kids today don’t remember the days when we had so many players at top Premier League clubs…Frank Stapleton, Liam Brady, Ronnie Whelan, Kevin Moran so many of our players were at top clubs and playing at the highest level of the European game every week.
“That just doesn’t happen any more with the foreign influx of players and it has really affected the Irish set-up. Do we have the players? We don’t know because they are not given the platform they need.”
Cooper will be on our screens in a very different guise this week, as he plays the role of James alongside Dawn French and Emila Fox in Sky’s hugely successful drama Delicious.
“I’m surprised that people are surprised when I pop up in a drama as I’ve always done theatre and TV work throughout my career, but Après Match has a huge audience and the identity I have from that is more pronounced than some of my acting work,” he adds.
“Working with Dawn French on Delicious has been a delight and it is great to be back for a second series after the show got the highest ratings for any drama on Sky One last year. There is talk of doing more Delicious in 2018 and I’d be delighted to sign up for that.”
Delicious returns to Sky One on December 29th at 9pm.