Friday, August 22, 2008

Bertie Ahern and the Road to Croker

It was with no small amount of trepidation that your faithful historian of contemporary Irish life settled himself into his armchair last night to watch – or sit through – The Road to Croker on RTÉ 2 last night, presented by former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

It seems plain that the show’s original premise was that Dublin would be safely in the semis by the time the show went on air, so RTÉ would be able to use Bertie in the most beloved of their GAA “angles,” the Dub in rural Ireland. You can imagine them pitching it, can’t you? “It’ll be just like Witness, that Harrison Ford movie, about the city guy lost in the country, but instead of Amish, we’ll have, you know, boggers.”

And so it came to pass, Tyrone having knocked Dublin on the head last Saturday notwithstanding. A navy and blue outfitted Bertie made his regal entrance, and asked “who better to have by your side than two high ranking generals from Heffo’s army?” before introducing James Keveaney and Patrick Cullen.

Who better, indeed?

Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine, for a second, that you’re a current Cork footballer. You’re on the second violin to the hurlers for your entire life, and now the rise of Munster rugby could wipe you out entirely. You’re a Munster Champion but, looking back on that day in July, it’s only beginning to dawn on you that you may have been sold a pup.

And on the eve of what is almost certainly your last run out in the Championship, you have to sit through a load of old blather about Dublin in the rare old times? This is 2008 – Heffo’s army is about as relevant as George Armstrong Custer’s.

How very depressing. The history of shows like The Road to Croker has always been a sad one. There is a part of An Spailpín that is irresistibly drawn to them, because they are aimed right smack at his demographic. But it’s a sad truth that Irish television, and especially RTÉ, knows very little about how to handle the Irish rural experience. Why don’t they get John Waters involved, or that guy that wrote Pure Mule? Instead, we just get the same old soft chat that hasn’t changed since Liam Ó Murchú.

An Spailpín has been haunted by something Derek Davis said on one of those Sunday brunch shows on the radio the weekend Brian Cowen was elected. “The Dublin media don’t understand rural Ireland,” said the big man. “They never understood Reynolds and they won’t understand Cowen.”

The GAA programs like The Road to Croker and Up for the Final are evidence of this. An Spailpín is convinced that the reason for Des Cahill having a career at all is because he is seen by RTÉ panjandrums as someone who can speak to the country bumpkins, just as the Victorians treasured the polygot ability of Sir Richard Burton – a chap who could speak bongo-bongo but didn’t actually go native (although they were never quite sure about Burton).

Bertie Ahern is a natural replacement to Cahill in this regard. Ahern’s support of the Dubs was portrayed in the press in terms of wonderment, like a sporting version of Tourrette’s. The place to see and be seen these days in the capital is the RDS for the Leinster rubby. It was never Croke Park. The rubby fans are only there under sufferance, bussed safely back and forth from Ballsbridge. Like Oisin home from Tír na nÓg, their feet must never touch the Northside. The notion of a man who had never committed farming and actually wanted to be in Croke Park is beyond comprehension.

And so the show stumbled along, helplessly bound by its limits. There was a marvellous but cruelly brief VT piece about the Gaeltacht club itself, including some comments from a Frenchman atá ina chónaí sa cheantar agus Gaeilge bhreá bhríomhar aige, bail ó Dhia air, and a joke VT about the history of Croke Park with the usual blather about the rugby. But the interview with the witty Paul Flynn of Waterford was a missed opportunity, the sharpshooter competition is thin enough gruel, and it all petered out harmlessly with some more blather from P Sé himself and a token preview of the game on Sunday.

Cork got their first mention of the show at sixteen minutes past nine. It’s not easy feel for a Corkman, but this was no way to treat a team who are playing in August in Croke Park, even if they are Bolsheviks. An Spailpín’s naughty angel was hoping that the show would show a sense of humour at the last by having Bertie perform his famous whip around as the titles rolled, his customary party piece at such functions according to press reports of earlier in the year, but no joy. Ah well. Maybe next time.

FOCAL SCOIR: Anybody notice anything about that link for The Road to Croker up the way? Says it all, really. Sigh.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,