Not every rugby game is good but there’s something good in every rugby game. I wrote this stupid little sentence down in my t-shirt ideas pad a few years ago and disregarded it because (a) it’s twee and (b) not one single soul would part with their hard-earned euros to buy it. It’s an Instagram tier meme, at best but – BUT – that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.
I thought about that phrase this week when I got a phone call asking if I’d be interested in filling in for someone on Limerick Live 95’s coverage of Munster vs Edinburgh. Now, after weeks of publicly complaining about sports coverage (to go with years of complaining to anyone who’d listen offline), I’d be in the hot seat myself with a mic in my face and my pie hole spewing out rugby knowledge to anyone tuned in.
As I walked over to Musgrave Park in advance of the gig, I ran through the “don’ts” that I had written in my phone. Don’t blather on ad-infinitum – the Luke Fitzgerald Effect.
Don’t try to sicken the audience with stupid puns or jokes that only you find funny – I’m looking at you, Mark Robson. Don’t drone away in a Cork accent while dumping on everything that you see – that’s you Eddie O’Sullivan, kid. This one would be the toughest.
In the course of my job, most of the games I get to analyse after they’ve finished don’t have any commentary file attached – just raw crowd noise and the referee mic. Two weekends ago, Munster played Zebre in Parma in a slow, physical game played out in quite difficult weather and pitch conditions.
The commentary team talking over the game – Eddie O’Sullivan on colour and Connor Morris on play by play – were dumping on the game from minute one, as both sides struggled to adapt to the conditions that, up until a few hours before kick-off, threatened to postpone the game altogether.
O’Sullivan bemoaned Munster’s “lack of ambition” with the ball in hand and dumped on the strategy to kick a lot of possession away, seemingly blind to the conditions as they presented themselves.
Players were finding it incredibly tough to carry the ball on the sandy, mucky pitch and Munster’s kicking strategy forced Zebre to restructure, find an exit and thus give Munster workable lineout position from which to attack in a better position without going through eight or nine hard carries in a world of slop and mud to do so.
That aspect of the game was a fascinating tactical battle played out with big consequences for any errors. When Munster weren’t kicking, a very young Munster pack was going one on one with a gnarly Zebre pack in conditions that will have levelled a lot of the skill differences between the two. Watching the game without the commentary was a different story. You could appreciate the physicality of the carrying and tackling.
You could hear the players celebrate every bit of ground they won. You could feel the tension as the game got narky and every scrum and maul was a brawl ready to happen. Munster began to pull away eventually and then won a bonus point with two tries in the last five minutes in a quagmire of a pitch.
It wasn’t a “classic” of the rugby genre but it was a bloody good game played out by a bunch of exciting young Munster prospects. But if you were watching and listening eirSport match commentary, you wouldn’t have known that. All you would have heard was how disappointing the whole thing was by Eddie O’Sullivan and Connor Morris.
This is not a hole that eirSport can allow themselves to fall into. The excellent Tommy Bowe, Donnacha O’Callaghan, Peter Stringer and Murray Kinsella are fantastic parts of the broadcast. Liam Toland, too, is someone who at least conveys enthusiasm to the viewer. Eir have to build their product around people who will engage the viewer in the high-quality contests that the PRO14 regularly provides. That isn’t “hype”. That’s the reality for people who know their rugby.
As far as I’m concerned, sports media is there to entertain, educate and uplift. Some people working in sports media forget that sports are just the soap opera section with a ball and a live audience and that we’re all incredibly lucky to be paid to talk about it at all. Other people have to work for a living, like.
I’m often described by some as a hype man for Munster Rugby and the IRFU like it’s an insult. But it’s true! I am a hype man. I want you to enjoy your past time.
I want you to enjoy the game as much as I do and obsess about WHY everything happens on the pitch the way it does and how it might happen in the next game. I want you to enjoy that so much that you feel compelled to watch the next game on TV with me or, better yet, buy a ticket and go to the game.
That is what excites me. If you can’t get excited and transmit that excitement to the audience watching, maybe find a different gig. Sport is fun. If you’re not having fun, you’re just flat out doing it wrong.