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Billy on the box: It's our summer of discontent

By Billy Weir

Published 21/05/2015

Let’s twist: Ulster twister championship gets into full swing
Let’s twist: Ulster twister championship gets into full swing

Unseemly squabbling, raised voices, jostling for position, petty name calling and no quarter being asked or given. It can mean but one thing - the Sunday Game is back.

In fairness, the shenanigans between Donegal and Tyrone in the Ulster Championship were almost as bad as in the RTE studio where presenter Michael Lyster had three dervishes to try and contain in the shape, and they are quite the shapes, of Joe Brolly, Colm O'Rourke and Pat Spillane.

Brolly never looks comfortable, squirming about on his leather seat like an octopus covered in WD-40 who has had its tentacles tampered with, O'Rourke sits like a man perched on a spike, and enjoying it, while Spillane hops about like a scalded hare, presumably sitting on all his All-Ireland medals.

Meanwhile, over on BBC2, Scott of the Antarctic had finished just in time for us to arrive at somewhere even colder, Ballybofey, where there were a few positional changes to the starting line-ups.

Gone, but not forgotten, is Austin O'Callaghan, presumably to resume his career as Sligo's No.1 Art Garfunkel impersonator, meaning that Mark Sidebottom had been forced out of the commentary box - and they say prayers aren't answered - to take over as presenter.

"I feel a little like a new piece of furniture in a very old familiar room," he began and can I just point out that any snide comments of being wooden will be shown a black card forthwith.

Anyhow, Mr Sideboard was joined by two other legends in the shape of Oisin McConville and Martin McHugh, who looked a little nervous that their teak-tough presenter had warned of "bumps, bruises, chaos and clatter" so it was just as well they had their stomachs well-lined.

"In my day you'd give a boiled egg to a player in the morning - it's no good giving those boys a boiled egg," warned McHugh.

"My young fella, Ryan, he's the smallest player on the field today and one day when he went out there he had nine spuds and a steak that size."

There was no mention of what Thomas Kane on the sidelines had for lunch, but dining at the top table now is Thomas Niblock, who has taken over commentary duties where he was the red Derry button option along with Paddy Bradley. English subtitles were available.

All was well until half-time when tempers became a little fraught as the players made a beeline for the steak and spuds and a nervous Kane reliably informed us that there was a "wee bit of jostling going on but it seems to be resolved" as jostling continued unabated and no resolution seemed in sight.

"It is fizzing there, some rather indelicate pushing and jostling there," said Sideboard, whose face looked like a bulldog asked to lick something very unpleasant off a nettle whilst sucking a lemon and eating a plate of grapefruits. Hold the spuds.

McHugh was giggling like an excited schoolgirl and McConville, who has seen it all before, dismissed it as "a bit of handbags" and insisting that "it adds to the spectacle".

Meanwhile, back at RTE and heaven knows commentator Marty Morrissey was miserable now as there was panic on the field of Ballybofey (no mention of how the Dundee v Humberside game was going), as the less than charming men swung hands in gloves before Lyster felt the joke wasn't funny anymore.

"It all ended very hectically, somebody said something to someone," he revealed, with indignation very much not the order of the day.

"Absolutely, let them at it," hinted Brolly, while O'Rourke, a man marginally more morose than the other Morrissey, added that "it has the statutory Ulster Championship dust-up at half-time but unfortunately no one hits anybody anymore".

Ballybofey's confined spaces were to blame, it was argued, but O'Rourke countered that "in most civilised environments people are able to walk in with each other - it's not a Roman amphitheatre".

Back on the pitch for the second-half there were a catalogue of offences last seen when lions were treating Christians very badly some time ago, with O'Rourke concluding that it was "categorised by petty-minded vindictiveness with all sorts of mean-spirited mouthing at each other". Give it a minute.

There were no lions, but plenty of bull, well, one, as Brolly questioned the positioning of Donegal captain Michael Murphy

"Playing him off the square is like hiring the prize bull from the Ministry and then using him to plough the field," he said but at least we knew the steak was fresh. However, Mr Murphy's pro and cons led to the sort of petty-minded vindictiveness with all sorts of mean-spirited mouthing at each other we hadn't seen the likes of since, well, a wee bit earlier.

This time it was our panellists, the ultimate insult levelled at Brolly by Spillane.

"The attention span of a human being is eight seconds, a goldfish is nine, that's you," he said, and I'm not really sure what he meant as I only got to seven seconds.

"That brings us to the end of our first outing of the Sunday Game for the summer and I can tell you it's going to be a long summer," concluded a relieved Lyster.

Perhaps a ceremonial shaking of hands between these old foes may be in order, but don't be ordering a Sean Cavanagh cake in a Ballybofey home bakery or all hell will break loose.

Belfast Telegraph

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