A little chutzpah clearly gets results


RADIO REVIEW:IT’S THE moment that Leaving Cert students dread. As they arrive at schoolgrounds across the land to learn their fate, these anxious teens have to face the possibility of being accosted by microphone-wielding reporters asking how they did.

With the latest batch of exam candidates receiving their results on Wednesday, there was no sign of this annual tradition waning. News At One (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) and Lunchtime (Newstalk, weekdays) both employed the venerable tactic of buttonholing students as they emerged from their school.

Aisling Moore’s report for the latter programme elicited differing verdicts on the merits of the new Project Maths paper from pupils at Terenure College, but revealed unanimity of opinion over the celebratory venue of choice, a nightclub called the Palace.

But it was Paddy O’Gorman, Ireland’s master of the vox pop, who best captured the air of anxiety, elation and despair that prevails on Leaving results day. For his item on Today With Myles Dungan (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), O’Gorman had, with typical chutzpah, finagled his way into Dominican Convent secondary school in Ballyfermot to talk live with pupils as they discovered their points tally. Against a background of loud chattering, the roving reporter met a series of young women who had just opened their all-important envelopes, and put them on the phone to Dungan, currently standing in for Pat Kenny.

The students sounded bewildered more than anything else; two of them were still trying to work out if they had scored enough to get their third-level choices. By and large, all seemed happy with the outcome, though there was a quietly heartbreaking moment when O’Gorman glumly noted that one pupil who had promised to talk was too upset after getting her marks. Dungan, meanwhile, struggled to find the right tone for his young guests, earnestly asking one if she felt “a sense of an ending” as she left her schoolfriends. “No, I’ll see them again, I’ll go out and have a night with them after this,” came the reply. The exchange only highlighted O’Gorman’s singular talent for connecting with people.

It was a gift that had been on show the day before, in a segment recorded at the homecoming celebrations for Katie Taylor in Bray. O’Gorman struck up entertaining chats with sundry characters, such as the mother who put the boxer’s achievement in context. “Ireland hasn’t done anything in years,” she said. “This has brought Ireland to a standstill. And it took a woman to do it.”

O’Gorman indulged in a little editorialising himself. He suggested that boxing, along with music, once provided African-Americans with a rare path to fame and that a comparable situation now applied for Irish Travellers, as exemplified by silver medallist John Joe Nevin. “Fifty years ago it was unthinkable that a black man should be president,” O’Gorman mused, “will we have a Traveller as taoiseach someday?”

It will not happen anytime soon, if the experiences of Nevin’s family are anything to go by. News that the boxer’s relatives had been barred last weekend from watching his Olympic final in his hometown of Mullingar prompted a visit by Henry McKean, O’Gorman’s counterpart on Newstalk. Speaking on McKean’s report for Monday’s Lunchtime, the interviewees exhibited an undercurrent of bitter resignation, but the tone was surprisingly jolly.

“I thought that was over since Nelson Mandela,” said one high-spirited man, who nonetheless said he had been denied education as a child, leaving him illiterate.

John Paul Collins, from the Traveller lobby group Pavee Point, told how Nevin had been informed of the controversy by his mother and said it had placed unnecessary pressures on the pre-fight preparations. “For me, he didn’t perform the way he would normally on the day,” said Collins. The implication was clear.

Nevin’s mother was interviewed on The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), in which the host showed his nose for news by failing to ask a single question about the issue. Instead, he preferred to mouth platitudes about the boxer’s medal being a “great boost for the Travelling community”. On the day of the Irish Olympic team’s return from London, Murray clearly felt the need to put a festive spin on matters, but one expected more from a former anchor of Morning Ireland.

That aside, Murray conducted a genial if occasionally startling conversation with Ronnie Delany, Ireland’s 1,500-metre gold medallist in the 1956 games. The veteran Olympian saw parallels between his victory, which came at a “very sad time in Ireland”, and that of Taylor, which he hoped would provide a similar lift for the country. He was also full of generous praise for the Bray boxer, welcoming her into the “golden circle of the Olympics”.

But things turned a bit odd when Delany stated his belief that such victories rested on more than sweat. The difference between himself and other equally hard-training Irish athletes was that he was “destined to win the Olympics”.

Athletes – and students – who have worked hard without achieving spectacular results might have something to say about that.

Radio moment of the week

Donegal’s Highland Radio scooped national broadcasters last weekend when Myles Gallagher spoke to Milford-born sports agent Ricky Simms on Sunday Sport. When the host asked about the Olympic achievements of Simms’s star client, Usain Bolt, the agent replied: “I can pass the phone to him now.”

Gallagher quizzed the Jamaican athlete on his exploits as calmly as if he were speaking to a local club footballer.

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