I PREDICTED last week that Limerick would beat Kilkenny by nine. I watched the game on the BBC. How times have changed since the Après Match team lampooned the BBC’s coverage. “And now we go to Jackie at the Ballymena Showgrounds where Larne Academicals have played out a pulsating 0-0 draw with Lisnagarvey Mature Ladies in the William Bradshaw Memorial Hockey Cup.” Then all the scores from the NI soccer and hockey leagues (all 0-0) before going to Songs of Praise.
The author and entertainer Garrison Keillor said that the secret of good broadcasting is false friendship. He meant that for a program to succeed, strangers have to be comfortable having you in their living room. BBC NI’s GAA coverage passes his test. My own test is a variation on Keillor’s: Is it the sort of conversation you would enjoy being part of in the pub or clubhouse? Here, again, the Beeb passes with honours.
For the Derry Kerry semi-final, they had Mickey Harte in studio (RTÉ need not apply). Edgy, prickly, funny, stubborn and real, Mickey is a compelling personality. He said beforehand, “Kerry think they know what they are facing today but they don’t. They’ll find that out when they go toe to toe. They’ll soon realise this will go down the stretch. After that it is up to Derry.”
Kieran McKeever, the greatest corner-back of his generation, who should have got six or seven All-Stars but kept getting sent off (in those days that was a barrier to the statuette) was glowing with mischief on the sideline. “I wish I was playing today. I wish I was marking Clifford.” So did we as it turned out. Peter Canavan once said it was his misfortune to be born at the same time as McKeever. Lucky for Peter all those young Tyrone guns came along after McKeever (‘Fever’ we called him because he raged like a fever) retired.
When Derry got the early goal, commentator Tommy Niblock, who hails from Derry aristocracy, shouted, “Derry hit the onion bag”. Tommy is one of the finest people you could meet. The sort of boy if he came to the house with your daughter, he would peel the spuds for the dinner then wash up afterwards. His uncles are Derry and Ulster legends. Hugh, who won an Ulster title with Derry then left for Cork during the Northern bother, won All-Ireland Club medals with Nemo before going on to become the replacement striker for Pele at New York Cosmos. I had the pleasure of playing with Tommy at St Brigid’s where his delight in the games and the lads shone through. We are very proud of him in Derry.
When Kerry goalie Shane Ryan took Shane McGuigan out with an extremely dangerous head high assault before scoring a point, Tommy’s co-commentator Philly McMahon positively gushed. “Big score. Not only did he give McGuigan a big hit as he went through, he also popped it over.” Tommy asked for Maurice Deegan’s verdict. One of the best things the Beeb has done is to have Maurice as the eye in the sky for their games. Maurice, who is very comfortable and likeable on the telly, said, “Definite free for Derry. The goalie clearly jumps and turns into the Derry player’s head. Definite card.” Philly said, “That’s not a foul Maurice. The two of them were going for the ball.” To be fair, Philly doesn’t think anything is a foul.
When the half time panel argued over the black card for Diarmuid O’Connor, Maurice was called for again.
Oisin McConville: It has to be a deliberate pulldown. It’s in the rules. He did not pull him down
Maurice: It doesn’t have to be a pulldown Oisin. Just a deliberate trip
Oisin (irritated): Did he pull him down?
Maurice: No he didn’t. All he has to do is trip him with his hand, which he did. A deliberate hand trip is a black card
Mickey: Maurice is right
Maurice (laughing): And just for the record, I picked Derry to win
Michael Murphy (laughing): I think it’s the first time I have ever agreed with one of Maurice’s decisions.
Oisin (sullen, like a chastised child): I disagree.
Mickey: Take it like a man Oisin. Take it like a man.
When they turned to the Shane Ryan assault, Mickey didn’t put a tooth in it.
Mickey: His feet are clean off the ground. He clearly turns and deliberately hits him with his hinch (Tyrone for ‘hip’) into his face
Maurice: Mickey is right. Shane knew what he was doing.
Oisin: You are both wrong…again. (laughter in studio)
The whole thing is natural and unforced. Sarah Mulkerrins is relaxed and likeable in the presenter role. Like all the good presenters she simply throws in the ball and lets them at it. This way, the conversation can go in any direction. The pundits chat amongst each other, just as they would in the clubhouse. There are no artificial interruptions. The host is a host, not a school master. As a result, we feel as if we are eavesdropping on them. And so, it satisfies the Keillor test for great broadcasting. More than that, it is important public service broadcasting.
I will be at the game in person on Sunday so I will have to record it on the Beeb and rewatch Dublin winning it by 6 on Tuesday.
I cannot stand another RTÉ Competition time:
Q. Which Richard can’t remember his salary?
Is it A. Richard Collins B. Richard the lionheart C. Richie Rich D. Rich tea biscuits?
Texts €5. No Taliban or Northerners.
Prize: The all new Renault Invoice (no paperwork required).