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TV Wrap - The top 10 sporting TV moments of 2019

Drum roll please, as we celebrate the best in television analysis, entertainment…and eejitry.

In no particular order, here are this column’s top 10 moments of sporting television of 2019…

1. Paul Merson on Wayne Hennessey

On an edition of Soccer Saturday toward the end of last season, Paul Merson was asked whether Troy Deeney should appeal a three-match ban for a blatant flailing elbow against Arsenal.

“You might as well appeal it”, said Merson. “If that lad is going in saying he doesn’t know who Hitler is, then you’ve got every chance.”

This references Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy, who escaped a ban for an apparent Nazi salute by pleading amazing ignorance. Hennessy was snapped making what looked quite a lot like a Nazi salute in an Instagram post uploaded by German team-mate Max Meyer, but didn’t get a ban as he argued he was caught merely catching the attention of a French waiter called Jordan Bussolini.

Anyway, Hennessy argued he couldn’t have intentionally made a Nazi salute as, incredibly, he didn’t know what that is. The FA said he showed a “lamentable” lack of knowledge of Hitler and fascism, but cleared him of any wrongdoing.

His defence somewhat undermined his solemn, #lestweforget poppy post of last year, but at least gave rise to one of the great headlines of 2019:

Capture

2. Eddie O’Sullivan v Jamie Heaslip

In terms of how to return to television after having a public vote hijacked by bad actors on Twitter, Jamie Heaslip this year showed David Cameron how to do it.

Jamie’s canvassing opinion on Twitter as to whether he should start a podcast went horribly awry, but it would now gain considerably more support if it were remodelled as a two-hander with Eddie O’Sullivan.

The pair didn’t exactly get on back in the day – Eddie told Heaslip he wouldn’t cut it at the top while wearing white boots and also had a habit of calling him ‘Graham’ – and that lingering unease was happily brought to bear in RTÉ’s cavernous World Cup studio.

Heaslip wore a weary, irked look pretty much whenever Eddie spoke, while Eddie was only delighted to intrude on Jamie’s fabulous world of groupflow and total positivity.

Heaslip and Eddie

It was the first time since Dunphy’s more combustible days that you felt an RTÉ panel could erupt in spectacular argument at any moment…and we were all the better for it.

3. Phil Neville’s interviews 

Who had Phil Neville down as television’s breakout star of 2019? There was a mildly colonial feel to how Phil went about his job with the England women’s team at the World Cup, seeing it as his duty to bring some order and attention to an otherwise alien, unruly world.

Take his absurdly righteous reaction to Cameroon’s indiscipline in defeat to England, in which the opposition kicked their way to infamy and briefly refused to restart the game in protest at a VAR decision.

“I came to this World Cup to be successful but also to play a part in making women’s football globally more visible…but I sat through 90 minutes today and felt ashamed. I’m completely and utterly ashamed of the opposition.”

That’s not to say Phil didn’t learn to enjoy his role, and after England had left the tournament with a disappointing defeat in the bronze medal match to Sweden, he said his players had “turned me into an emotional wreck. I cry at everything – I cry watching Dirty Dancing now, and Pretty Woman. Because they are the most unbelievable set of girls, honestly they are.”

See? Maybe men are just too emotional to succeed at football.

4. Joe Brolly leaves the Sunday Game

A seismic, potentially historic Gaelic football event in September…that wasn’t the five-in-a-row.

Joe Brolly, having sat adjacent to the final for RTÉ, was dropped for the replay and replaced by Stephen Rochford.

It ultimately brought to an end Brolly’s lengthy tenure with The Sunday Game, and as the coverage kicked off in his absence, he tweeted a picture of himself supping a pint in true “‘I-never-liked-you-anyway” spirit.

What proved to be his final appearance, in which panelists squawked emptily over a fair David Gough call, was a circus, but it will be interesting to see how the programme fares in the absence of its most magnetic character.

Brolly was frequently exasperating and inconsistent, but he was capable of making great television.

5. Donal Óg bemoans British culture 

Brolly can be said to have fallen victim to a culture war on The Sunday Game, between the folksy inexactitude of the past and the gleaming, polite insight of a present wrought by Sky Sports.

It kicked off during the summer when Donal Óg Cusack elected to hit out at those who decry hurling’s modern tactics, claiming this kvetching is “part of the last remnants of British culture on these islands.”

It wasn’t an unreasonable point to make, leaving aside the fact that there is a quite a bit of British culture left in these parts.

He was equating those against hurling’s new systems with the long ball, 4-4-fackin’-2 merchants of English football, who were wholly resistant to better forms of their game.

The reaction was huge and telling, with Ken McGrath – a panelist on the live programme earlier that day – tweeting “absolute nonsense, egos gone out of control.”

Ollie Moran tweeted that Donal Óg and Derek McGrath had “wasted ten minutes of The Sunday Game pontificating about hurling philosophies and ideologies. Joe Public would prefer if you just raved about the exhibition of skill and manliness that we saw today.”

There is an audience for forensic, in-depth GAA analysis, but is it as broad as the crowd served by The Sunday Game?

6. Monty Panasear on Mastermind

Ah, best just to watch this one.

Source: Fred Boycott/YouTube

7. Eric Cantona’s speech

Eric Cantona turned up to another interminable, byzantine Champions League draw and treated it with the incoherence it deserved. Handed a president’s award at the gig, Cantona drew on a bit of King Lear in a rambling, confusing speech.

“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport. Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal.

“Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply. I love football. Thank you.”

Leaving aside the noble word-dump of the address, the true magic was the bewildered and slightly terrified reaction of Cristiano Ronaldo.

8. Paul McGinley’s commentary as Shane Lowry wins The Open

Shane Lowry’s triumph in Portrush was probably the best Irish sporting moment of the year, even if it was preceded by a classic Sky Sports clanger that “it would be nice to see a British winner of the Open.”

Happily, by the time Lowry was marching down the final fairway on Sunday, with thousands galloping behind in support, Paul McGinley was on commentary with Sky and captured the moment nicely.

“We’re a small country, but we punch above our weight.”

With tricolours flying and raucous “Ole, ole” chants engirdling the final green, it was a remarkable moment and testament to sport’s greatest ephemeral power.

Winning in a land of fraught and contested identities, Lowry gave fans a chance to identify with something brief, benign, whole and uncomplicated.

9.That day we all watched Oireachtas TV

Who knew there was such drama to be had on Oireachtas TV? Actually, scratch that: who knew there was an Oireachtas TV?

John Delaney and the FAI rocked up to an Oireachtas Sport Committee meeting in April in light of a deeply confusing revelation that the former CEO loaned the FAI €100,000 back in 2017, and then stood into a new role as Executive Vice-President on a Saturday in Gibraltar.

The drama escalated from there, as Delaney cited legal advice and said he was precluded from talking about the loan or, indeed, his time as CEO. His 18-day reign as Executive VP was fair game, to be fair.

Politicians were outraged, and what followed was a public kicking for the FAI. “Scarlet for you” scorned Imelda Munster; “this is Hamlet without the prince” lamented Ruth Coppinger; “a cartel” cavilled Robert Troy.

Michael Healey-Rae did appear with his reliably obsequious eejitry, but it was a hugely damaging day for the FAI. The theatre of treasurer Eddie Murray asserting the FAI have one bank account, when in fact they have 24, will be looked back upon as one of the epochs in the unravelling of the FAI.

With so many people watching on, public opinion hardened against the FAI, and five days later, Delaney stepped aside, heading on gardening leave before eventually severing ties in September.

10. Brian Kerr: Tottenham Fan

This year’s Champions League semi-finals set a new bar in terms of absurd sporting drama, and we defy you to watch Spurs fan Brian Kerr react to Tottenham’s late, late comeback against Ajax without smiling.

 

They didn’t make the top 10, but here are a few other moments worthy of their own gong….

The Award for Best Quote of the Year – Richard Keys

“Dinosaurs ruled the world for 300 million years, so if that’s what I am, so be it.”

The Eddie O’Sullivan Award for Best Eddie O’Sullivan Quote of the Year – Eddie O’Sullivan

“It’s like that old saying: You can’t fire a cannon gun out of a canoe.”

The Tyler Durden Award for the Splicing of Shocking Material into Mainstream Entertainment – Peter Walton 

The Golden Cleric Award for Best Interview at Moment of Triumph – Chris Wilder

 

The RTE Player Award for Poorest Video Playback of the Year- North Korea’s football association

North and South Korea played out an (alleged) 0-0 draw in an international game in Pyongyang earlier this year. There was nobody actually at the game, but the North Koreans promised to send a DVD of the game back with the South Korean players. They did…but sadly it wasn’t of sufficient quality to broadcast.

Tweets of the Year 

 

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About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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