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1 month on, patience a virtue for much-missed Off The Ball 5

Four weeks ago today, Newstalk confirmed the stunning news. What happens next?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAh3_0sayfg

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WHEN ANDRES CALAMARO’s ode to Diego Maradona played out Off The Ball as usual on Friday, 1 March those of us listening couldn’t have realised that it was, in fact, the fat lady singing for the team behind the show.

The following Monday, some 18 months of back-and-forth negotiation with station bosses came to a head and the five journalists — Ken Early, Simon Hick, Mark Horgan, Eoin McDevitt and Ciaran Murphy — left the station.

“Ger Gilroy, Newstalk Sports Editor, who devised Off the Ball in 2002, will be joined by mainstays of the Newstalk sports team – Cian Murtagh, David McIntyre and Joe Molloy – in taking over the running of the show, starting tonight,” a statement released to TheScore read. “Newstalk would like to thank Eoin, Simon, Ken, Ciaran and Mark for their contributions to the station and wish them luck in their future endeavours.”

The Twitter machine lit up when we pressed the button on the story with the show’s loyal fanbase stunned by the mid-afternoon bombshell.

The station indicated that the OTB5 — as they quickly became known — were keen to change the direction of the show and problematically for those entering meetings with pie charts and demographic charts under their arm… they wanted to go on earlier.

Many commenters and social media refused to believe this, instead insisting there was surely some tale that was yet to be played out publicly. Four weeks to the day since their departure, it’s clear that other considerations like money or ego were not at the heart of the decision. This was simply a case of artistic differences.

PR battle

That afternoon the faces of the OTB5 were wiped from the station website,the @SecondCaptains Twitter handle was changed to @OffTheBallNT and furious fans mounted online petitions and Facebook pages.

Later that evening, Ger Gilroy faced Ireland’s sports fans. After a winking reference to sport being cruel and Ronan O’Gara not being able to choose a departure time of his liking, he addressed the news of the day.

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“First things first, we didn’t really expect to be here tonight but we are,” he said. “That’s because the lads had made a pitch to start the show every night at six o’clock. Management couldn’t accommodate that and the lads have decided to resign.

“All I really want to say about this now is that we’re going to miss our friends. Ken, Eoin, Mark, Simon and Murph are an amazing group of people to work with. They’ve helped change how sport is talked about in Ireland forever.

“They made great radio and they helped make radio great. We’re all going to miss them and we wish them the very best of luck in the future.”

And then they moved on.

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What next?

In Digge’s Lane, those in the sports department have been left with a mess not of their making and a task of keeping the show on the road. They’ve done that admirably.

Gone are the flourishes like creative stings and familiar slots that made the show Off The Ball. And with Ger Gilroy at the helm it feels at times like a Saturday all week long.

Adrian Barry has been drafted in from 98FM to join the overworked staff and no doubt plans are afoot for a proper revamp of the show if not the schedule.

Gardening leave. Pic: @secondcaptains

Meanwhile, a couple of days after their dramatic exit the OTB5 surfaced to confirm that ‘fundamental differences’ marked the end of their run on the show.

“We’re gutted to leave behind something we love but after eight years we feel it’s vital that our product continues to evolve and improve. We would like to sincerely thank Newstalk for giving us a chance to put the show together,” a statement read. The picture that deliberately accompanied the piece showed four of the team gardening.

So where next will they reconstruct a new programme? Game On presenter Damien O’Meara told us last week that those in Montrose heard ‘rumblings’ of unrest in Newstalk in the days before the news broke. And though RTÉ station chiefs will monitor the situation, don’t expect them to sign on in Donnybrook.

Balls.ie reported on 12 March that both Radio Nova and 4fm were in talks with the group. Today FM and other Denis O’Brien stations can be struck off any back-of-a-beermat list obviously.

But regardless of where they go next, you can expect a different package and a new means of delivery.

Nevertheless, they wanted a change of direction and they’ve achieved that. Not rushing into something new is the way to go. But they’re much missed in the meantime.

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