Bending it like Bertie on the Road to Croker


While he may have looked and sounded a bit wooden, Bertie didn't put a foot wrong, writes Miriam Lord

THE ROAD to Croker is paved with Dub intentions, but at least one disappointed supporter has been able to salvage something from his county's latest sporting setback.

Bertie Ahern's All-Ireland championship enjoyed an extended run last night when he made his debut as a television presenter on a Gaelic games chat show. Describing himself as "a high-impact sub", the former taoiseach and self-proclaimed sports fanatic filled in for The Road to Croker's regular host, Des Cahill.

With the help of a besotted audience and strict attention to the autocue, Bertie sailed through. Although the promised "entertaining cocktail of review, analysis, discussion and debate" ended up on the safe side of tame.

Des will be one of the happier members of the Irish Olympics team out in Beijing today.

How Ahern's beloved Dublin team must have wished they had the ability to Bend it like Bertie as they were hammered by Tyrone in the All-Ireland football quarter finals last weekend. But then, words in a witness box - or a pre-recorded programme - are far easier to control than a wet ball on a slippery pitch.

He may have sent himself to the political sidelines last April after a spot of handbags in St Lukes with Brian Cowen, but the former taoiseach has lost none of his thirst for the limelight. When the TV call-up came, he grabbed the opportunity.

How difficult could it be? As he said in a radio interview on Wednesday: "When times get difficult and it's not your fault, work hard and knuckle down to it . . ."

Of course, he was referring to our new economic recession, which is nothing to do with him. If it had, "I would have dug us out of it", he declared in that same interview. No, this was a different proposition - not least, a possible path to be followed in the Ahern afterlife.

On Bertie's favourite theme of dig-outs, some of us feared we might have to be dug out from behind the sofa after witnessing his big television break, but that wasn't the case.

Light entertainment has always been his forte.

It was certainly surreal, watching the three-in-a-row taoiseach and most popular politician of his era addressing the camera as he carefully delivered his scripted links. While he may have looked and sounded a bit wooden, Bertie didn't put a foot wrong, and viewers who may have initially approached the broadcast from behind splayed fingers rested easy after the opening minutes of the show.

It was recorded in Páidí Ó Sé's pub in Ventry - the Kerry football great is a big pal of Bertie's and the fledgling presenter looked at home in the venue.

Bertie, given that he was broadcasting from a Gaeltacht area, began with a bit of Irish. If it's good enough for Brian Cowen . . .

The politician turned presenter stayed in his comfort zone throughout the show, with two stars of the great 1970s Dublin football team opening proceedings. You can't go wrong with Paddy Cullen and Jimmy Keaveney - anecdotes at will.

"We'll be asking two Dublin legends where it all went wrong," said Bertie to the camera.

We're all wondering that.

"A trawl through the good old days might be just the tonic to lift the gloom." Never a truer word, Bertie. Dublin Castle, September 15th, if the Mahon tribunal calendar is right.

The two boys were value for money. Bertie let them talk. They told of travelling in style to matches in the early days, courtesy of limousines from an undertaker. Bring back the hearse, some of us Dublin supporters were thinking.

Cullen recalled how he was famously caught out by a lobbed pass by Kerry's Mikey Sheehy.

"That was legal then," said Bertie, quick as a flash, in a rare departure from the autocue. He knows these things.

Ó Sé told how he was distraught before a big match when his wife forgot to pack his lucky underpants. But the day was saved when a call was made, the garment was dispatched by train to Dublin and Charlie Haughey "sent his car out to collect it".

The audience hooted, but Bertie didn't react.

The show was produced by a company called Loosehorse Productions. He's always done well out of the horses, has Bertie.

And we know now that if racing pundit Ted "This is a really lovely horse, I once rode her mother" Walsh finds himself double booked, ace punter Bertie "the boom times are getting even boomer" Ahern will be able to step into his boots.

Afterwards, he relaxed with a pint, smiling broadly under the benign gaze of Charlie Haughey, who is framed for posterity in Páidí's bar. Just like Bertie.

Catch him again soon, in The Road to Dublin Castle.

No autocue.