IN PUBS and living rooms across England on Sunday afternoon, a whole new nation was recruited as high summer experts in one of Ireland’s national sports.
As Sunday roasts were dished out and pints supped, cries of ‘You wouldn’t see a tackle like that in Old Trafford,’ ‘Tadhg Morely would break Harry Kane in half’, and ‘James McCarthy, he’s one of our own,’ filled the lazy afternoon air from Southampton to Newcastle.
The BBC pulled out all the stops yesterday to make All-Ireland football final day a prominent fixture in their sporting calendar beyond the north. They approached the challenge with gusto and seemed to pull it off.
“It’s bigger than Eurovision,” asserted a Dublin fan they interviewed before the game of All-Ireland final day, “This is the Irish Superbowl,” said the Late Late Show’s new presenter Patrick Kielty from high up in the stands at Croke Park.
In the studio, Sarah Mulkerrins introduced Mickey Harte, Michael Murphy and Oisín McConville to England, while the familiar faces of Kielty, Dara Ó Briain, Paul Mescal and Adrian Dunbar had been recruited to acclimatise the new audience from Headquarters.
Wonderful afternoon at the All-Ireland football final yesterday. Delighted to be part of the first BBC national broadcast of the final, and to be in such good company. Obviously after the final we all parted company quietly to return to our homes and reflect; and I am not HANGIN’ pic.twitter.com/2xiNE2a9sK— Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain) July 31, 2023
With all the pageantry the BBC had rolled out, it was hard to keep an eye on The Sunday Game. Joanne Cantwell was her usual solid self, while Peter Canavan singlehandedly attempted to put the day in bright lights with his shiny suit.
While Canavan looked like a groomsman in search of a groom, Ciarán Whelan and Tomás Ó Sé were much more conservatively dressed, which matched the general tone on the national broadcaster.
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The novelty factor carried the BBC’s coverage far and there’s nothing to stop them replicating that presentation year after year for a British audience. Those in Ireland choosing to watch the final on the Beeb, will probably dig that angle once a year as well.
Oisín McConville did an admirable job of introducing the overseas audience to the significance of All-Ireland final day, Kielty gave a 101 on how “you can only play for the village you’re born in, you can only play for the county you’re from”, David Clifford was compared to Lionel Messi, amateur status was lauded, and Michael Murphy wowed the socks off Blighty with his Tír Chonaill lilt.
Apart from Canavan’s suit, RTÉ was oh so sedate. There was some mild disagreement on whether Paul Geaney double bounced the ball before scoring Kerry goal, but many viewers must have been longing for a Pat Spillane character to throw a couple of hand grenades.
At full-time, Tomás Ó Sé surmised “There’s no talking points after it, hats off to Dublin.” “Hats off,” agreed Canavan.
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The BBC were able to construct a spectacle in a way that RTÉ couldn’t, and they ran with it. If you were an Irish person watching their coverage, all this revelling in our national identity was enough to give you a nosebleed. You were nervous that one of the lads was going to let us down by picking their nose and wiping it on the back of the seat live on air.
And somewhere in deepest London, in Angie’s pub in Cricklewood or The Marquis of Granby in New Cross even, you just knew there was an auld fella from Cahersiveen, watching Dara Ó Briain waxing lyrical about the game and muttering into his pint of plain, “Sure what would a gobshite from Wicklow know about football?”
If you want to be critical of the BBC, and we can’t let them get away without at least a soft dig, it was that, apart from Philly McMahon on co-commentary, they had no one on air who had a dog in the fight. They’d a Galway woman and men from Armagh, Donegal and Tyrone in the studio and a Kildare native, a Fermanagh man, a Down man and that smarty cat mathematician from Wicklow in Croke Park, limiting the scope for a proper row a la Spillane and Brolly
Maybe if the Dubs and Kerry both make it back to next year’s decider, the BBC can get Conor McGregor and Michael Healy-Rae into the studio. Throw Stephen Nolan in as the adjudicator and the Beeb will have really struck gold.