A Saturday that promised so much goes quickly pear shaped
IT WAS a Valentine's weekend super Saturday that promised so much. Actually, it all started on Friday night.
Plans had been made to meet the better half and her mates for a drink after a late shift at Irish News HQ. As I walked into the Duke of York, I was met with the inevitable question: "What are you having?"
"A pint of blackcurrant and water."
It was out of my mouth before I knew what I was saying, but the dye was cast, the motor wasn't staying in the work carpark and I'd designated myself as the driver. It was an unexpected turn of events, but one that worked in my favour some 14 hours later when all around were nursing hangovers in bed and I was fresh as a daisy.
The result? I suddenly had a free diary and the telly to myself, but that's when things started to go wrong. My first mistake was to tune into the Sunderland v Manchester United game on BT Sport. My second mistake was to think United could get something out of a clash with the second-from-bottom team in the Barclays Premier League.
Wrong on both counts and you would also have been wrong had you expected the co-commentary team of Michael Owen and Trevor Francis to say anything of interest or insight. Francis, in particular, was on fine form.
"I had Michael Carrick on loan as an 18-year-old at Birmingham," he said.
"And he was quicker then than he is now."
I was only just recovering from that 'man slows down in his mid-30s shocker' when Ardboe's finest Lamine Kone popped up with a bullet header to seal the points for the Black Cats, sending me scrurrying for the remote control.
Over I went to BBC One, where Ireland's Valentine's visit to Paris was well under way. Having missed the introductions, it took me a minute to work out what lilting Irishman had joined the curmudgeonly duo of Eddie Butler and Brian Moore in the commentary booth.
After a couple of contributions, I was convinced it was Eoin McLove (a wee Father Ted joke there), but It soon dawned on me it was Monaghan's own superstar Tommy Bowe, who himself has an adoring legion of middle-aged women that would make McLove proud.
Once Tommy had settled into his jumper made of cake, he started to provide plenty of worthwhile analaysis and gave a few glimpses into the minds of a modern-day rugby player. Indeed, he was a damn sight more entertaining than anything that was happening on the Stade de France pitch, with the first-half coming to a close with Ireland leading narrowly at 9-3 despite dominating proceedings.
"It was a good advertisement for stadium roofs," said Butler. It was hard to argue.
Back we went to a studio of sorts, or rather a table stuck in the middle of the crowd, where Gabby Logan's aggressive questioning was unnerving little Thomas Castagneide. The pair were also joined by Munster and Ireland giants Paul O'Connell and Keith Wood, yet it is to Gabby's credit that she was still the hardest-looking person at the table.
O'Connell and Wood did their best to dissect what we had seen, but the boul' Gabby kept interrupting anytime they'd built up a head of steam. Paulie was worried that France's stronger bench might make the difference in the end. Prophetic words indeed.
Back to the action and, with a scoreless second-half on the cards, France did indeed ring the changes. Off came prop forward Poirot (isn't he Belgian?) after a Herculean performance, on came Chat to add a bit of snap, while Hugo Bonneval also got a run-out. Well, he needs something to do now Downton Abbey is over.
It was inevitable the French would make the breakthrough and, in typical fashion, come it did. Maxime Medard got his hands on the ball and made a burst for the line. Robbie Henshaw made a last-gasp lunge, but let his opponent slip through his fingers. If only he'd studied his uncle Stephane's handling skills from the 2001 FA Cup final.
Bowe spluttered on his cake made of jumper, O'Connell and Wood and especially Gabby had little option but to scare the life out of Castaignede, and I was left to pick over the bones of a super Saturday that promised so much but delivered so little.
It was enough to have a man reaching for the blackcurrantr.