Una Mullally

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Off The Ball team leaves Newstalk

The team behind Off The Ball, a show that is in my opinion the best on Irish radio, has resigned from Newstalk today. The programme will go ahead with founding presenter Ger Gilroy and a group of Newstalk sports reporters. …

Mon, Mar 4, 2013, 17:28

   

The team behind Off The Ball, a show that is in my opinion the best on Irish radio, has resigned from Newstalk today. The programme will go ahead with founding presenter Ger Gilroy and a group of Newstalk sports reporters.

The Off The Ball team featuring Ken Early, Eoin McDevitt (pictured), Ciaran Murphy, Simon Hick and Mark Horgan have all left the station. The programme provided an insightful, witty, hugely knowledgeable and often brilliant collection of sports reporting, commentary, interviews and analysis, winning several awards during its decade-long tenure on air so far. It’s shocking news for the show’s large, loyal and extremely engaged fanbase.

The Score broke the story this afternoon, and published a statement from Newstalk. There are no official details regarding the future plans of the five presenters, or indications that they are set to move to a new station collectively or individually. On the first programme since their departure, Ger Gilroy said they had left after wanting the programme broadcast an hour earlier, which would infringe on George Hook’s show. Conor Pope also writes, that their departure comes after an argument over scheduling with Newstalk management.

Privately, there have been ongoing murmurs of disgruntlement from Newstalk staff over the past couple of years, due to financial pressures, increased workloads, cutbacks and redundancies, but the departure of the Off The Ball team which holds an almost evangelical position in the eyes of Irish sports fans and within the Irish media landscape, is a huge blow to the station given that it has consistently been one of the station’s most popular shows. Publicly, Newstalk’s last high profile resignation was Eamon Dunphy’s ‘blaze of glory’ departure in 2011 when he voiced massive discontent with the station, although his assertion that one of the reasons he was quitting was for a type of solidarity with other journalists at the station was rebutted by colleagues including George Hook.

The team’s departure leaves a massive hole not just in Newstalk, not just in sports broadcasting, but in radio in Ireland in general. The quality of Off The Ball‘s output is an example of smart broadcasting at an international level of excellence in a national radio climate that is becoming increasingly conventional, cosy, needlessly confrontational and vanilla outside of current affairs broadcasting, which in fairness is still done to a very high standard here.

A rival station would be mad not to snap the team up. RTE have tried with little success at emulating Off The Ball‘s sharp and instinctive rapport, which is built on close relationships within the team, a mutual understanding and respect, and above all, a massive depth of knowledge. Unlike the chirpy and swaggering sports guy persona that has populated bulletins globally, Off The Ball manages to treat sport with the reverence it deserves while injecting fast-paced segues, valuing honesty over sound bites, and quality analysis over mindless banter. The result is a brilliant package of accessible, intelligent, fun radio, so well-honed that you didn’t even have to enjoy the niche of sport to tune in.

I wish the team all the best with whatever they do next. Hopefully it’s something together, soon, and on radio, as their voices will be hugely missed from Irish broadcasting unless that happens.

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