World at our feet as festival of football kicks off

John Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady
John Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady

The World Cup has returned, and while my love for association football has waned over the years, I for one am jolly well excited about it. Sure, I’ll probably be bored of the whole thing within a week as usual, but for now I can channel Shakespeare and honestly declare: players, play on.

A large part of the modern World Cup experience is, of course, the TV coverage: the panels, the pundits, the analysis, the wild criticisms and hilariously tetchy exchanges. The Last Word (Today FM, Mon-Fri 4.30pm) had an enjoyable discussion of the telly element, with journalists Kieran Cunningham and Sinead O’Carroll, and Matt Cooper beginning, “To a lot of people what goes on before and at half-time is as important as the match itself.” Sadly, this is true.

“Is there a snobbishness towards the English coverage?” he asked. “A sense that we in Ireland do it better?” Kieran pointed out that RTÉ’s fabled “Giles-Dunphy-Brady” troika was actually based on a template set by ITV in the 1970s, when its coverage was “very controversial and opinionated”.

Sinead reckoned that viewers wanted “to see a bit of confrontation between the pundits”, and that the gurus aren’t just “being as nice-as-pie about what they’re seeing”. We heard audio footage of the infamous Eamon Dunphy pen-throwing incident during Italia 90. “The pub used to be shushed when the panel or Jack were talking,” Kieran recalled, “and I remember a shocked silence after that.”

Silence is not a word generally associated with Eamon himself, and the legendary motormouth popped up on Game On (2FM, Mon-Fri 7pm) to give some brief pre-tournament thoughts to stand-in host Joanne Cantwell. He’s most looking forward to seeing the performances of Lionel Messi, whose “attempt to match Diego Maradona is one fascinating angle. In Argentina they say Maradona is the greatest player of all time, this is Messi’s last chance to emulate him, and that’s going to be fascinating.”

Off the Ball (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 7pm) heard from regular contributor Pat Nevin. The hugely likeable ex-Chelsea star joked about travelling to Russia for his TV work, “I’ll be going to a bunch of cities – and will learn how to pronounce them when I get there.” Meanwhile presenter Joe Molloy echoed a lot of people’s sentiments when he said, “There are so many reasons to want this World Cup to not go well for Russia and Vladimir Putin – but God, I do feel kind of excited about it now.”

If professional soccer is one branch of the global entertainment-industrial complex, so too, in this age of Donald Trump, has become politics. In her weekly column for Drivetime (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 4.30pm), Olivia O’Leary explored the possibility that the US President may well gain a second term.

She began by laying it out simply: “He could win again, you know. I woke up this morning realising that Trump could win again. And we may be fooling ourselves if we think he won’t.”

O’Leary, being the proper journalist that she is, had travelled to America for a few weeks last summer, spending time with both Clinton and Trump supporters. The Democrats had “believed that Hillary couldn’t lose against Donald Trump – but the bizarre circus that was Trump’s campaign distracted us from political realities”. Chief among them were: the US hadn’t returned the Democrats for a third term since the 1930s – and voters favour the incumbent. Also, their economy is doing well; wages are rising.

“Polls show,” she added, “that over 80pc of those who supported him would do so again. For that constituency, he has done some of what he promised.”

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