Comment: Why is the Irish League such a turn-off on telly?
Billy Weir: Every Thursday, frank, funny, fearless and always on the ball on the Irish League
I'm not quite sure where the tingle emanates from, but deep down don't you still feel a bit funny when you hear the words 'Danske Bank Premiership' and 'live on Sky Sports' in the same sentence?
Granted it is a rare and rationed treat, with the satellite giants teasing us with a few hand-picked morsels over the season, but when you're used to living off breadcrumbs then even the merest nibble is a feast, with Glentoran and Crusaders the first course on Monday evening.
Now, back before I swapped my box for a ball (I haven't gone away you know), I oft vented my spleen on such matters, but in the week when the NIFL has revealed a substantial rise in attendances in the early weeks of the new campaign, it seems baffling that local broadcasters still treat the Irish League with utter contempt.
And I would argue that other sports have every reason to gripe too, especially club action in Gaelic Games that is simply crying out to be covered properly, but forgive me as I return to my first love and that of thousands of other would-be viewers out there.
The media focus on the league is probably at its highest for as long as I can remember, there are online shows hosted by this newspaper and others, another NIFL-backed show with Cool FM, while Radio Ulster's Sportsound is still the flag-bearer. Long may it flourish.
BBC, who own the rights to the league, have their own excellent online Irish League Show, and then there's the roller-coaster ride that is Final Score on a Saturday evening when no one is home to see it.
UTV, because of the Beeb deal, are left dangling because they aren't allowed to show any action, but there's nothing to stop them digging up a few stories here and there to cover.
With Sky coming on board this week, I thought I'd carry out an experiment to see what local TV has to offer, so from last Tuesday to this I watched all the Newsline and UTV Live news broadcasts (yes, I do need to get out more often).
The sum total of mentions that the Danske Bank Premiership garnered in that eight-day period? Fifty-nine seconds on BBC and 37 seconds on UTV. I'm sorry, that is pathetic, especially on a weekend when there was so much happening and four derbies.
Final Score usually offers some respite, but you feared the worst when Mark Sidebottom warned that "time is a little tight in tonight's slightly shortened programme", and we were right to be afraid as time beat them and only one of the four goals from Warrenpoint's 2-2 draw with Carrick Rangers was squeezed in during a measly seven minutes.
Yes, the goals are available on the website and on the Irish League Show, but surely it is not too much to ask that the latter could be squeezed onto the TV schedule somewhere, although for that to happen on BBC NI we would have it fronted by Stephen Nolan in cowboy boots, half of it in Irish and half in Ulster-Scots with some farming and politics thrown in for good measure.
And don't get me wrong, Sky are far from perfect. We only get a handful of games and it does have the feel of a pop-up shop in that Graham Little is dusted off, anoraked and stood at the side of a pitch for a two-minute build-up, the match comes and goes and we're away again before the burger van has stopped frying onions.
This week it filled a hole on their new Football channel because of international week, and a lot of the crew were probably headed this way because Germany are in town, but let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. Or indeed a burger from The Oval.
It's simply not fair to compare BBC NI with Sky's resources, and I wouldn't dream of doing so, but a fairer comparison, perhaps, is with RTE. After all, the Celtic Tiger has long since left the jungle with barely a whimper.
And this week what did we get from RTE on the League of Ireland? Live coverage of both FAI Cup semi-finals and the ever-excellent hour-long Monday evening highlights and discussion show, Soccer Republic.
Maybe I'm wasting my time, maybe the reason attendances are up is because people are being forced out of their homes to see what is a hugely competitive and exciting product, with 169 goals so far this season - that's 3.12 goals per game (like I say, I do need to get out more).
All we want is a fair crack of the whip, football and sports fans are just as entitled to be served by their local broadcasters as line-dancers, country and western fans, farming enthusiasts, political hot-heads and Stephen Nolan fetishists.
But wait, good news is just around the corner, the BBC is broadcasting a Linfield match live this weekend. Against Dundee United in the Irn Bru Challenge Cup, live on BBC Alba. First-half commentary in Gallic by a man dressed as a shortbread tin, the second half by Nelson McCausland. I can't wait.
Gentleman Jamie shows he has the magic touch
OUR game gets a lot of stick at times, and a lot of it is warranted. But take a bow Jamie Mulgrew for his actions following the sickening injury to Cliftonville’s Tomas Cosgrove last Saturday.
Even in the heat of battle, the Linfield skipper showed his class by forgetting about the game and helping the stricken Reds player until the medical team made their way onto the pitch at Solitude.
There’s no love lost between the rival fans, and the players also have a healthy rivalry befitting of cross-town foes, but it just shows you that when the chips are down, top men like Jamie are still with us in this league, and well done to Tomas for thanking his helper after he was released from hospital.
And it seems that the Reds are well on the road to recovery too after their shaky start to the campaign, the thrilling come-from-behind win the performance of the season so far and a real red letter day for boss Barry Gray.
He came in for a lot of stick due to his ideas taking time to sink in, but since they hit Knockbreda for six in the League Cup they haven’t looked back and they now all seem to be on the same page.
And they went one better in the League Cup on Tuesday evening when they stuck seven past PSNI.
Incidentally, if you get the chance try and see their fifth goal, courtesy of an outstanding own goal by defender Scott McGrory.
I’m tempted to say it was criminal defending but that would be a cheap shot.
Out on the wing
Kids show that they’re alright for Norn Iron
IT’S great to see that three players from the Danske Bank Premiership have been included in the Northern Ireland Under-21 panel this week.
Glenavon’s classy midfielder Mark Sykes joins Coleraine pair Ciaron Harkin and Jamie McGonigle for the friendly in Jersey and the Uefa U21 qualifier with Estonia, while his Mourneview team-mate Bobby Burns has been called into the Under-19s.
This can only be good for the game here and is a great incentive for the talented kids we have at this level, but I have to say, like his boss Oran Kearney, who signed up Harkin and Ian Parkhill on long-term deals last night, I can’t quite believe that another Bannsider bairn, Brad Lyons, hasn’t been included, as he has been sensational this season.
Watch out, here comes another Kearney
AND the Kearney clan is taking over the managerial world with news that Oran’s younger sibling Liam has taken over the reins at hometown club Ballymoney United, and has been on looking for a few tips.
“I’ve spoken to Liam more in the past week than I’ve done in the last three months,” revealed the Coleraine boss.
“He’s always had aspirations of managing and Ballymoney is a club close to his heart, one he played for, and they’re not in a good place at the minute. It’s great for him and it would be great if they could make progress.”
Good luck Liam and c’mon the Toon!
Matthew is at Tipping point with players
FAIR play to Warrenpoint Town manager Matthew Tipton for having a pop at his players for an ailment that afflicts so many of the smaller outfits — bigteamitis.
After what he called an ‘absolutely disgraceful’ first-half display against Carrick Rangers, the riot act was duly read.
“When we played Linfield there was a big crowd. You nearly don’t need to build up to it because the adrenaline is there,” he barked.
“When there are fewer people here, you need to generate your own spark inside, and the people who can generate that are the people who will have long careers in the game.”
Well said, but can you imagine how cranky he would have been had they not drawn 2-2?
No predictions this week because of the abridged programme, but well done to Carrick midfielder Mark Surgenor who hammered me 5-0 last week, including a perfect 3-0 prediction of Crusaders’ win at the Glens, to take the season’s score to 3-3 between myself and the players. The international break has come at a good time for me!