Boorish, Self-Serving, Sychophantic and Biased: It’s the Irish Rugby Meeja

What is it with the Irish rugby media? For every Matty and Franno dishing out insightful comment and insider info, there is a Frankie getting paid by the Irish taxpayer to praise his clients. Every time Quinny gives us genuinely interesting comment from an ex-pro’s perspective, Tom McGurk informs us in turn that he is the link between the Irish rugby team and the public. The good and the awful co-exist in an uneasy compromise between treating the viewer/reader like a fool and like an intelligent consumer.

The empty rhetoric and pointless warblings of some of our esteemed scribes after the Welsh game were especially rank. Let’s take three examples in detail


Own Agendas / Provincial Bias

When Farmer Farrelly opined that Rory Best has become a key player for Ireland, we nodded in agreement – we wanted him to be the new captain after all, and he is Paulie’s second in command – no mean feat in a pack of big personalities.

The problem was the preceding paragraphs. Farrelly had started off by saying Deccie had too much loyalty to certain players. We couldn’t agree more. But to see that he was tiresomely referring only to Leinster players (and Tommy Bowe, who had just refused to join Munster), we sighed. Again. The funniest was saying Jonny Sexton needed to return Deccie’s loyalty – after all, he had started just one game in a row, and note the following series of events, starting with Sexton’s debut against Fiji in November 2009, after which he retained the shirt against the Boks the next week

  • DROPPED 1 – for the 2010 Six Nations, Rog took over for the first 2 games, then Sexton came back in for the final 3
  • DROPPED 2 – for the All Black game in June Rog had the shirt, then Sexton came back in against Australia. That November, Sexton retained the shirt for all the big games, but…
  • DROPPED 3 – he lost it again in the following years 6N after the defeat to France. Sexton came back into the side for the final game against England, and held the shirt for the France games in August
  • DROPPED 4 – Rog took over for the England game. In the RWC, Sexton started against Australia
  • DROPPED 5 – then Rog came back into the side against Italy and Wales

Hardly the type of loyalty that needs urgent repaying, whatever you opinions on who should wear the 10 shirt. This parochialism is a huge issue in Irish rugby, but you would think our journalists would know better.


Give The Proles the Message

In case our Anonymous friend thinks we are unfairly targetting the Farmer, let’s move on to his polar opposite, suave sunglasses-donning D4 bon viveur Gerry Thornley. Thornley is our inspiration, and a thoroughly great read when on form. Form is scratchy these days however, and when he isn’t moaning about Pearson penalizing the Munster forwards in Toulon, or France getting to the World Cup final, he is worshipping at the altar of Deccie.

Last season, in return for uncannily getting the starting XV right for every match in the Six Nations, Gerry helpfully explained the logic behind each selection. Sometimes he even went beyond the call of duty in his enthusiasm to get Pope Benedeccie’s message across, assuring us that Paddy Wallace was on the bench to cover fullback, and as such was a better choice than, say, Gavin Duffy or Felix Jones. Equally, Ireland, as well as having the correct selection at all times, had no disciplinary issues. Au contraire:

“Messrs Poite, Pearson, Owen and Kaplan (with the, em, help of Allan) gave them a raw deal.”

So of the 5 referees, 4 were biased. As they say, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Woodward and Bernstein would be proud.

Gerry lost his place to Fangio for the RWC, and contented himself with maintaining that Ireland’s attacking game was in great shape and anyone who suggested to the contrary was as blind as Dave Pearson.

And so, back to the Six Nations, and Gerry was again the blue-eyed boy, getting the team selection bang on. We’re not suggesting that there was any relation to his supine review of the game, but safe to say gameplan, selection and coaching did not get any mention. Pulitzer’s all round!


The Lunatics Take Over the Asylum

To be fair to Gerry, he may have pedalled the official line, but at least he did it in a considered and well-spoken fashion. Another well-known pundit opted for the aimless ridiculous ranting ploy – the one and only George Hook. Hooky had an immediate diagnosis for Ireland’s problems after the Welsh game – the back row. So far, so ok. What the plan then George? Well, said our hero, Jamie Heaslip spends too much time in the papers, so time to ditch him and bring in a proper openside. Ok, don’t like the personal attack bit, but go on … who should come in? Harrison Brewer. Harrison Brewer, everyone in Ireland asked? That would be Harrison Brewer, who is still in school, and starred for Terenure in last years Junior Cup. Oh dear. And who is apparently a centre. Dear oh dear.

The craziness is not limited to Hooky, the froth on the message boards is far more voluminous (and stupid) than on HEC weekends, and its generally of Farmer Farrelly standard: play _________ because he has the pishun/schooling/soundness plus he is from the same province as me. But Hook stokes this crap – people recycle his every moronic utterance and claim it as their own, adding to the general atmosphere of stupidity following any Irish defeat. RTÉ have clearly (as is their right) decided on ditching sensible rugby commentary in favour of entertainment.

So Frankie, any thoughts on your man of the match?

 “Thanks Miles/Mark/Ryle/Conor. I certainly do. David Wallace may have been fairly quiet by his own high standards and was substituted after 50 minutes, but the clincher for me is that he is my client, and therefore man of the match.”

The above is paraphrased, but happened in January last year. Wally is a hero of ours and he had the grace to look bemused when presented with his magnum of Magners. Frankie was on the ether again a few weeks ago, labelling Peter O’Mahony (another client) the player of the HEC group stages. His logic – well, didn’t he get two man of the match awards? He did indeed. Guess who he got them from?


A Few Bad Apples

So between personal agendas, prostrating to all, engaging the vocal chords before the brain and enriching oneself, are all Irish meeja types the same? Thankfully not. It would be remiss of us to wrap this article up without mentioning those who we enjoy reading and listening to, those whose considered opinions deserve a (much) higher billing than they currently get. Take it away:

  • Quinny. His new column in the Irish Times is a revelation, giving you a proper insight into the life of a pro, the inner thoughts, the nagging doubts, and the drivers of success. He’ll get better the further removed he is from the playing sphere
  • Keith Wood. Talks and thinks like he plays – rarely putting a foot wrong. You can see why he captained every team he played in, the man oozes intelligence and ambition. And he scored a drop goal for Ireland! From hooker!!
  • Shaggy. When we saw his name down as an RTE pundit, we groaned. Current player, platitudes, bland. But he is much more than that. He is smart enough to know he needs to offer something more, and his random stories from the playing field always make you think
  • Emmett Byrne. Byrne can be hard to understand and talks too fast, but he is the only pundit who has ever led us to think we would have half a chance of understanding the technical dynamics of forward play (both of us are willowy backs at heart)
  • Matty and Franno. What can we say? Guided us through the RWC with proper analysis of matches, as opposed to rants about Deccie/Rog/Drico/losing the will to live. The contrast between RTE’s “isn’t it great for the people of Christchurch” and Setanta’s “Craig Joubert’s display was a disgrace to rugby” post-final analysis was stark
  • Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob Casey. Ok, so his first 20 columns were about his mates who worked in the City, but he finally ended up giving really rounded pieces about the life of a run of the mill 9-5 pro. He appears on Sky from time to timew, but they give him a children’s table to make everyone laugh. Eschew the City, Bob, come back to our screens!
  • Conor O’Shea. O’Shea has an impressive depth of rugby knowledge and his thoughtful leadership has really shone through at Quins. Frequently looks bemused by the tantrums and abuse from McGurk and Hook, he is a rare bright spot at RTÉ.
  • Brendan Fanning. Fangio might hail from the Sindo, but he does some real writing too – for the Grauniad and for his excellent blog. He was Deccie’s pet during the RWC, but he wasn’t peddling the right lines, so now contents himself with writing perceptive and intelligent critiques.
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17 Comments

  1. Savage stuff lads. It's only a matter of time until the Editor of the Times (or God forbid, the Indo) is ringing at your door.

  2. Excellent – LOVE IT

  3. Generally spot on, but I can't agree on Franno. He's every bit as ridiculous as Hook, just replacing the anger and boorishness with smugness, a xenophobia that gives Farmer F a run for his money, and a determination to shoehorn as many "colourful" bons mots into his spiel as possible, regardless of sense or context.The Setanta coverage is excellent, I agree, but that's entirely down to the superb Matty. And Matty's a far sight better on the radio than the telly, where the ludicrous format does him no favours. The nadir was probably in the World Cup, where as "host" he – Matt Williams! – was asking Franno what the mood would be like in a professional training camp, and how a coach might motivate players. Franno, who even in the amateur era was one of the least professional players I ever saw, being quizzed on that by Matt. Effing. Williams. Absurd.The Setanta coverage is great even on balance, yes, but Franno is 100% dead weight on it.

  4. How can you give out to Big Bob for talking about his City mates (fair criticism) and not have a go at Franno in the Sunday Tribune? The first half of his articles aren't worth writing on a napkin.Quinny has been great. Would probably give O'Shea a bit more praise, it must do his head in to be in the studio with Hook and McGuirk.Sadly the likes of Hook resonate with casual fans, how often do you hear that he 'tells it like it is and isn't afraid to pull punches' from someone who would barely know a ruck from a maul?

  5. Excellent post. The utter shite that the likes of Farrelly, Hook, Thornley and McGuirk pedal is seriously annoying, and framing public opinion in the wrong way.Thornley's interviews on Off The Ball recently have been a parody.However, you missed the worst writer of the lot. Stand up Johnny Watterson.

  6. @FuzzyDunlop & Anon – thanks for the compliments guys!@toro toro & HB Great comments guys, I can totally understand anyone not being able to stand Franno. I pretty much swing between extremes with Franno, there's been times when he's driven me up the walls. His stubborness on some issues – Tommy Bowe not being terrible for example – is maddening. And that scene with Williams asking Ruck Inspector Franno about professionalism sounds hilarious! But I have to admit to grudginly just… liking him! I don't know if it's the near-horizontal posture, the almost-Gallic-shrugs or his way with words, but he's currently in the good books, on the telly anyway. I reserve the right to change my mind though.As an aside, much as I love Matty Williams, his column in the Irish Times is absolutely awful! All that pseudo-soulful stuff about searching for the spirit of some surfer in the Pyrenees, or his cappuccino-sipping in Narbonne town squares with the locals… he ran out of things to say after two weeks.

  7. @Shane yes, Watterson's articles are error-ridden disasters, but he's still in the second division – he hasn't quite got on the public's radar yet.Gerry on Off The Ball has become awful. Emmet Byrne ran rings around him last week. He outlined all the problems with the set-up and said we had at best a 10% chance of winning. When it was put to Gerry he gave us a 40% chance. McDevitt expressed surprise and asked why he gave us almost a 1 in 2 chance and Gerry just blurted out 'I still believe in Declan Kidney!' It was cringeworthy.

  8. No mention of Liam Toland? His column in the Irish Times is always a great read. Impartial (hailing from Munster / played for Leinster) and always from a slightly quirky angle, his is aways an interesting and on the money appraisal of the weekends events (on a Monday). His opinions of what lies ahead for the coming weekend are generally spot on too. Although he did get the last two results against Wales ridiculously wrong! Still a great read. Himself and Quinny are doing a great job for the Times.

  9. Thanks all.Re Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig Bob, we are kind of tongue in cheek. We like to bring him up at every given opportunity to be honest..Toland is great yes – I do find the military stuff can wear thin, but he always offers a different slant. Todays piece is great for example.

  10. Great read. Any insight on the TG4 coverage?

  11. @Anon – taimid ag trying to work out cad ata na lads ag caint about. I've been listening out for the phrase 'amach ar an lan' but haven't heard it yet.

  12. It's great that for such a small country with a small media market that we do have such variety in rugby coverage. We're not stuck in an RTE hegemony.Setanta had a great World Cup. They didn't just throw on a competitor to other channels but actually provided an alternative. I like that their format doesn't have a true presenter-it leads to a more conversational style. Matt and Franno are interesting and insightful without being patronizing and Matt's straight style seems to keep Franno's tendency to hyperbole in check. Newstalk do good work as well. Off The Ball do good analysis but their effort to get other angles is great (Gavin Duffy has been on talking about Connacht's HCup season, Ian McKinley on his forced retirement etc). Newstalk's coverage of the HCup is very good. The use of three commentators allows for more scope during matches. In a game that has plenty of natural downtime, the three commentator format is something that could work on TV too. Alan Quinlan's columns have been a revelation (his first column after the Wales game last week was particularly interesting in it's focus on the players responsibilities for the loss).Emmett Byrne is fast becoming a favourite. Nobody has come closer to explaining to me the dynamics of the front row (I wouldn't say I actually understand now but nobody came closer!).Liam Toland is good in person but his columns are a bit erratic.Shane Horgan has been excellent recently. If he doesn't get back playing, he'll make a fine analyst. It's interesting that you didn't mention the other stalwart of the RTE panel at all. You'd have to be a fairly cold fish not to like Brent Pope but his omission from your piece says a lot about his contribution. Does Hook have any credibility left?

  13. @DramaticIntro – marvellous stuff. We'll put you in the 'Pro Franno' corner.Off The Ball is a superb radio show and they've had a number of great rugby pieces, other than their usual monday and wednesday slots, which I also enjoy, including the two you mention. I've actually – brace yourselves – enjoyed listening to Eddie O'S on their show too.Liam Toland is a peculiar one. I get the feeling he's trying a bit hard in his column. All that KPI blather a fortnight ago was a bit much. I would have to admit to not knowing what his column today is actually about – maybe Egg Chaser will explain it to me later when we're having our weekly meeting over skinny moccha-frappuccinos.

  14. I thought it was good, but the Mole disagreed, and I will (as always) defer to him:http://dementedmole.com/2012/02/17/the-blazers-the-suits-and-the-trackies/The point about Kiss and Deccie is really important … and should be elucidated. We're lucky Deccie is renowned for hsi openness with the press – no doubt he'll tell us shortly…

  15. Pro-Franno might be putting it a bit strongly but I'm not anti-Franno!Yes, Eddie has been good on the last few months and he's been pretty honest about his own career which is to his credit.I always get the feeling with Toland's columns that he knows what he wants to say about rugby but he wants to hang it around something else to make it more interesting. He just ends up forcing it (as you say, trying too hard) and battering his ideas out of shape.That Demented Mole article is succinct in way that Liam hasn't managed to be yet.

  16. Great piece lads!I like Toland but agree that his pieces can be a bit all over the place. He was very good on Setantas 2007 coverage, don't know why he isn't utilized more in other media.Did anyone notice that according to Gavin Cummiskey Donncha put in a 68 minute shift for Munster the other night, honestly did the man even watch the match?!!http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/sport/2012/0220/1224312052250.html

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