Belfast Telegraph

It's time to give local telly fans a sporting chance

By Billy Weir

All roads led south, some of them veering off to the west, on one of the busiest sporting weekends of the year, well, certainly for RTE.

It was all hands to the pump in Dublin as sporting programme after sporting programme was shovelled onto the TV schedules while up north (this is factual, although may open a can of political wriggling things), all was relatively quiet. Too quiet.

Here's a brief synopsis. RTE, and I'm not including TV3 or TG4 or any other loose collection of initials, offered up half a dozen programmes on the All-Ireland Football Final, the Gaelic if you're not from 'the north', ranging from sporting build-up in Championship Matters, to entertainment, loosely, in Up For The Match.

This featured refugees from the Gay Byrne era of The Late, Late Show, shoehorned into Dublin and Mayo tops and forced to listen to Des Cahill whilst trying to work out just how Gráinne Seoige managed to get into that leather frock.

I thought about this for quite a long time before my attention, albeit reluctantly, was drawn to more sport. There was a documentary on Donegal's maverick boss Jim McGuinness in Jimmy's Winnin' Matches, and a show called Second Captains Live, described as 'where comedy, sport and entertainment meet in a knockabout fashion.' Hmmm ...

Onto Sunday and there was the Sunday Game Live, with coverage of the Minor and Senior final, and highlights on the Sunday Game. By now, I had guessed it was Sunday and there had been a game on.

And that was just the gaelic football, I haven't even mentioned there was a live League of Ireland football/soccer/footy (delete as applicable depending on your political football of choice), and on Monday night the excellent MNS (not F, I notice).

Oh, and what's that, lots of live rugby on too? Sure it's grand altogether, Daire O'Brien (not as funny as he is on Mock The Week. Oh, not him ... ) standing in a windswept Galway with the interesting Conor O'Shea and the windswept and interesting George Hook.

Nice to see they had braved the elements, all kitted out in lovely Jack Wolfskin anoraks emblazoned with RTE. I'd love one of those for the winter, but if you send me one it would need to be more George's size than Conor's.

Politics is never far away, Daire commenting on pictures from the Ulster dressing room where they 'had brought a few home colours to make them feel more at home' and I had an awful image of Johann Muller painting a mural on the wall.

And as for BBC NI and UTV? The rugby (sitting in a darkened room in Belfast), Final Score (should be forced to lay down in a darkened room) and on UTV we had RPM and Paul Clarke playing kerbsie with Alison Fleming.

All year we were bombarded with the assault on the ears that is Mark Sidebottom's commentaries but come the big day and he was silenced. Not even coverage of the All-Ireland Final on BBC2 NI or even the red button.

The argument could be made, and a dangerous political one it would be, that there were no teams from Northern Ireland or Ulster (in all its guises), but then why show the Champions' League Final as ITV do when there are no British teams in it.

It would seem strange that they have the rights up to the semi-final and then when it comes to the big day they decide that there is a much bigger fan base in showing highlights from the Americas Cup. I'll never forget that last day I travelled through Donaghmore and the signs up for Team Oracle were very moving.

Now, don't get me wrong, I know times are hard and RTE have a lot more euros than there are pounds at the houses of Broadcasting and Havelock respectively but surely as sports fans we can and should expect more?

There are local programmes being made. This week alone we had the return of The Blame Game, a panel show that could have been made in 1985 with comedians trotting out the same old jokes about politics. There was also The View, which could have been made in 1985 with politicians trotting out the same old garbage about everything. Hard call on which is the funnier.

There's drama in Six Degrees, a made-up show about six clearly made-up students that are so dislikeable it should have been called Third Degree because you would have murdered half of them.

A plethora of shows in gaelic (not football) have also sprung up, one about medical things and another including Daniel O'Donnell. Both have much the same effect, you haven't a clue what's being said but you are left feeling squeamish.

There was a touch of that too on UTV as Brian Black, intrepid environmentalist reporter, armed only with a lop-sided tripod and a bag of badger repellent, is roaming the land once more on Cuilcagh: Bog on the Brink. I've had experience of that myself, particularly after a rather hot Chicken Madras one night, but I digress.

Moving swiftly on there is The Magazine, the new vehicle for Sarah Travers, while UTV also have a show called Rare Breeds, a documentary about how hard it is for farmers to cope with just three Land Rovers. They should combine to two and have Sarah talking to Malachi Cush while he's being nuzzled by a bull calf, it would be much more interesting.

As would the acquisition of a submarine armed to the teeth with torpedoes to be directed to the Irish Sea the next time Paul Rankin and Nick Nairn are spotted off the coast and heard using the words 'big lad' on the frying pan into the fire horror that is Paul and Nick's Big Food Trip.

Conclusions? Well, I'm now called Liam, my application for a fada has been lodged at Stormont and just in case that doesn't work I'm off with a bag of peats and a box of shortbread to see if the Ulster-Scots people will give me some cash for BBC NI and UTV.

Belfast Telegraph


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