Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Telegraph Sports Awards: 'I value our real sporting heroes over football's £1m a week prima donnas'

 

By Ivan Little

The Irish TV star who was once dubbed the sexiest man on the planet has voiced his anger at the richest footballers on earth and the 'obscene' pay cheques doled out to them.

Dubliner Craig Doyle's fury was fired up after it was revealed that Alexis Sanchez and Carlos Tevez could soon be earning £1m a week between them.

"And that's scandalous," says Craig who is the face of rugby and MotoGP on BT Sport. "I think that sort of money is grossly unfair, especially when you consider that some top rugby players regularly struggle after quitting their sport.

"They should never have to worry about money again but many of them have to find a new career after retiring from rugby.

"I'm finding it increasingly difficult to stay in love with football.

"What's happening with the latest transfer deals really sickens me - one agent recently got £10m - and I don't see why there should be such a disparity in wages," says Craig (47), who has one of the most instantly recognised faces on British, Irish and satellite TV and who is looking forward to meeting 'real' sporting heroes tonight when he co-hosts the Belfast Telegraph sports awards, along with Claire McCollum, in Belfast's Waterfront Hall.

"I'm always excited to come to Belfast for the ceremony. I rarely get the chance to meet so many great people from such a wide range of sporting backgrounds in the one place," he says.

It's all in sharp contrast to football's preening prima donnas and Craig is particularly thrilled to be heading to Belfast at a time when sport is on the crest of a wave.

He says: "Right across Ireland we are certainly punching above our weight at the minute.

"It was great to see Mark Allen winning the Masters snooker last week. He's a great guy who thoroughly deserves his success. He's gone through some really hard times and he's not afraid to speak his mind and show his vulnerability. "

It was another Ulsterman, Dennis Taylor who first sparked Craig's interest in snooker as he watched his exploits on the TV. "I actually got to meet him in person at the Belfast Telegraph awards in 2017 and it was one of the highlights of my year," says Craig, who is also a huge fan of Ballyclare superbike king Jonathan Rea, who was voted runner up in the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.

"That was sensational and it showed that the brilliant motorbike community decided that they were going to get in the mix this year.

"Jonathan is absolutely incredible. To win three world championships in a row and to dominate them completely was unbelievable. He's a serious talent, that kid. But he is still a very-understated fella, a very nice bloke all round."

When he was growing up Craig's idol was Irish rugby legend Tony Ward, who also played football in the League of Ireland with Shamrock Rovers and Limerick.

"I go to the same gym as Tony and I've let him know how much I admired him," says Craig, who in football's simpler days was a fanatical Mancheter United supporter.

He was in awe of Northern Ireland maverick Norman Whiteside and colleagues Frank Stapleton and Bryan Robson. Norman will be in attendance tonight and Craig added: "Norman's winner in the 1985 FA Cup final against Everton will live with me for a long time. I tried to recreate it in the garden to little avail."

Craig was also a fan of golfer Jack Nicklaus and he enjoys a round or two at Powerscourt when his hectic schedule and his commitments as a family man allow.

He likes to get out on the course to play with some of his four children who are showing potential in a variety of sports.

And talking of young protégés, Craig has fond memories from his earlier days covering golf of interviewing a youthful Rory McIlroy, whose Foundation is represented at tonight's event.

"I chatted to him after his first amateur victories and I remember thinking he wasn't just a tremendous golfer but also a fabulous young man with a superb family all round him," says Craig, whose favourite interviewee in his career so far has been another golfer, Tiger Woods

"His caddy had a reputation for being short with people and there were security men all round him but we just chatted on and on for ages. I liked his company," says Craig, who adds that racers Stirling Moss and John Surtees were also on his list of memorable interviewees.

Tactfully, he prefers to keep his own counsel about the interviews he didn't enjoy.

All he will say is that the most forgettable interviewee was also a golfer and that he wasn't Irish.

Down the years, Craig has shown enviable versatility as a TV presenter, fronting everything from Disney shows to Tomorrow's World to holiday programmes.

As well as MotoGP, shows he has also hosted coverage of the TT races on the Isle of Man though the latter association is about to end.

That's because the Manx Government have awarded the broadcasting rights to another company and Craig wants to stay loyal to his erstwhile employers.

He says he'll miss the Isle of Man and the repeated reminders of Joey Dunlop.

He adds: "He may be no longer with us but Joey is still the soul of the Island for the two TT weeks. All over Europe I meet fans wearing Joey T-shirts and they're not Irish."

Craig who had a number of disappointing shows on RTE sees his future as a sports presenter.

His brother Keith, who is a BBC journalist, was formerly based in Belfast, told Craig in his student days to cut his teeth in news if wanted to get into sports reporting.

"He said anyone who could do news could do anything.

"It was the best advice I ever got. But after the holiday shows and the science programmes it took up to 10 years to get credibility in sport in press rooms and dressing rooms," says Craig who has literally travelled the world to present sports shows.

He's trying to scale back on the globe-trotting a little bit so that he can spend more time with his children and his parents who haven't been too well of late.

But even after the briefest of chats with Craig it's clear that he's a man who laps up his job despite the sacrifices he's had to make.

Reminders of the aforementioned sex symbol references still haunt - and embarrass - Craig, who insists: "I never felt comfortable with any of that. I was shy and I just hid from it. I wasn't very good at the so-called fame thing.

"Now that I'm in sport, however, the relationship with the public is totally different.

"People will come up to me now and they just want to have a chat.

"It's a much nicer way to go about your day."

In the evenings, Craig, who lives in Wicklow, is in big demand to present awards functions and sports club dinners.

But he turns down more invites then he accepts.

"A lot of rugby clubs ask me to speak at their dos, but I have to be very careful to maintain an unbiased approach.

"I don't want to be too cosy with players and officials.

"I never want to be in a position where I feel that I can't ask a question of anyone.

"Sometimes a bit of distance is a good thing," says Craig, who relishes his working visits to cover Ulster rugby games at the Kingspan Stadium inBelfast where he says the noise, the colour and the atmosphere are 'fantastic'

He insists that he's confident Ulster will play their way out of their inconsistent form of late but he is even more certain about who is going to win the upcoming Six Nations.

He says: "It has to be Ireland. The strength in depth is better than we have seen for a very long time and we have super young players like Jacob Stockdale who are making the breakthrough.

"It's all looking good and I think this is going to be our year."