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Billy on the Box: I'm over the moon - a Sky blue one

Billy on the Box

By Billy Weir

WARNING - the following article may contain huge amounts of bias, gloating and has been written whilst wearing sky blue-tinted glasses.

It's not often you get the chance to actually pinch yourself but when you hear the words "it's Ballymena United versus Carrick Rangers and it's live on Sky Sports 2", you think many things.

Is it a cruel trick played by a pesky Coleraine fan (are there any other kind?), have you indulged in one tumbler too many of the devil's buttermilk or have you simply gone round the bend after years of watching a side I like to refer to as a sleeping dwarf?

But no, a pinch of my sinewy bits confirmed that this was very much real and thanks to a new deal with Sky, the League Cup final was indeed live and on Sky Sports 2 on Saturday evening.

Automatically, the bosses at BBC Sport NI will fully expect me to go on a rant about how nice it is to see some local footy on TV - and who am I to disappoint them? - but I will get their defence in first.

They are there every week and the Irish League Show online is first class, if only they would have the wit to put it on the telly rather than any BBC NI comedy, political programme or documentary about a farmer with a three-legged goat that speaks Ulster-Scots and is getting married to a dubious man.

Final Score, as haphazard and mad as it is, is to be welcomed, but the Irish Cup final aside, local fans are left looking enviously at every other country in the world wondering just what they have done to deserve so little.

UTV's lack of rights means they will soon be showing an artist's impressions of players in their news bulletins, while they have blown their budget on Pamela Ballantine's sofa and poor Ruth Gorman is still over in Las Vegas trying to win enough cash to get back home from the Carl Frampton fight.

So welcome back Sky, it wasn't nice that you left us, but I'm willing to give it another go if you are, although with so many Northern Ireland folk over there now you get the feeling that there has been a fair bit of nagging going on.

It was fitting then that hometown boy Paul Gilmour was handed the microphone for the League Cup final where he was paired with Steve Lomas, fulfilling the Sky criteria of 'needs to be someone we've heard of and has a passing knowledge of football in Ireland'.

They were given a practice run the previous evening with the first live game of the new deal as Cliftonville took on Glentoran and like any first date the new partnership had some awkward moments, particularly the uncomfortable long stretches of silence, but clearly someone had had a word about the lack of words as they were getting on famously the following evening.

Unfortunately, Lomas, who played half a dozen games for Coleraine many moons ago, showed that he has been away for quite a long time by getting names wrong and that is understandable, I suppose, but there is absolutely no justification in repeatedly referring, as so many do, to David Jeffrey as David Jefferies.

My other main gripe is the lack of a presenter. Graham Little we saw little of, the shapely wrist of the pitchside reporter was as good as it got, while Gilmour and Lomas, clearly wanting privacy, were never to be seen.

At half-time this was a problem as we were forced to revisit the first-half action with our intrepid duo and it had the feel of 'we're here but we're not sure' when time would have been better served letting Lomas read his Big Boy's Book of Irish League Stuff to get more on the ball.

Into the second period and the Sky Blues, a goal to the good, were ticking off the seconds to a first League Cup success and Lomas yelled at a rampaging Conor McCloskey to "take it to the corner and kill the game".

Of course Man City fans will remember that he has a bit of previous on this front, famously running into the corner back in 1996 when City were drawing with Liverpool in the mistaken thought that a point would keep them up.

It didn't and McCloskey clearly had that in mind as he promptly hammered the ball into the top corner of the net to seal the win.

"What do I know, telling him to take it into the corner?" snorted Lomas holding his hands up to his mistake but as the dust settled on the win, he had another couple up his sleeve.

"Not many of them have been in a final before (Ballymena have been in four finals in the last four seasons) and they're in the quarter-finals of the Bass Irish Cup," he insisted.

To those not in the know, the Bass Irish Cup ceased to be many moons ago and while Bass may no longer sponsor it and Carling don't do Saturdays, Tennent's do so there is a chance that David Jefferies et al will be raising a glass come May.

Whether we're doing the same to Sky remains to be seen but it's nice to have a pop at something that is there rather than just a live game once in a blue moon, a sky blue one, obviously.

Belfast Telegraph

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