Ireland is bookies’ third favourite to win Eurovision

O’Shaughnessy will sing 24th out of the 26 acts in the final

Ireland’s Ryan O’Shaughnessy performs ‘Together’ during the dress rehearsal for the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018  in Lisbon. Photograph: Reuters/Rafael Marchante

Ireland’s Ryan O’Shaughnessy performs ‘Together’ during the dress rehearsal for the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 in Lisbon. Photograph: Reuters/Rafael Marchante

 

Having failed to make the final for four years, Ireland is, by the bookmakers’ calculations, the third favourite to win the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon on Saturday night.

The odds on Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s song Together have shortened steadily since its surprise qualification on Tuesday night, with only the upbeat pop songs of Cyprus and Israel more fancied hours ahead of the main event.

The Irish entry is among three ballads, along with the Lithuanian and German offerings, that have confounded the pundits’ predictions and find themselves in contention to win the contest.

Europeans continue, it seems, to have a taste for from-the-heart singing and simple presentation, which worked for the last two winners – Ukraine and Portugal.

Together features O’Shaughnessy playing his guitar and gazing at backing singer Claire Ann Varley, while Alan McGrath and Kevin O’Dwyer dance together in the background.

What the international press are describing as the piece’s “gay love story”, appears to have captured the public imagination. The Irish team are using the act to promote inclusion and encouraging fans to use the social media hashtags #loveislove #together #ireland to support the song.

O’Shaughnessy appeared confident ahead of the final. “The best case scenario is that we win this, and that’s what is going to happen, I think,” he said.

Ireland has won the contest more times (seven) than any other country but has struggled in recent times. Together has already bucked a trend by helping Ireland reach the final for the first time since 2013.

RTÉ’s head of delegation for Eurovision, Michael Kealy, said that this time last week nobody gave the Irish entry a chance.

“I’m feeling good and quite surprised, to be honest,” he said.

Chinese broadcast

More attention has come Ireland’s way in the form of a mini-scandal involving the Chinese broadcast of the contest on its Mango TV network.

Ireland’s song was one of at least two acts which Mango cut out during Tuesday night’s semi-final broadcast, reportedly because they did not wish to show the same-sex couple who appears in the act.

On May 9th, the European Broadcasting Union, which produces Eurovision, terminated its partnership with Mango, saying that it had “censored” the broadcast. This was “not in line with the union’s values of universality and inclusivity and our proud tradition of celebrating diversity through music”, it said.

O’Shaughnessy believes this was “the right decision” on the union’s part.

“It’s a step in the wrong direction if they don’t take action against people who are trying to suppress a certain demographic,” he said.

Mr Kealy credits the director general of the union, Irishman Noel Curran, for his swift action on the issue of censorship.

The Eurovision Song Contest is about inclusiveness and diversity and celebrating arts and culture; censorship has no place in it. Noel Curran and the EBU didn’t prevaricate and made exactly the right decision,” he said.

Mr Kealy said the idea to have two men dancing together was O’Shaughnessy’s. He was “quite skeptical at the start” but decided to let the singer have full creative control of the song’s promotional video.

“When I saw the final result, I said this is clearly the only way to go. Everything is going to stem from this.”

Selection revamp

RTÉ’s selection process for the Irish entry was revamped this year with four rather than two panels of experts, some of whom had not been involved before, helping to choose the song.

“I’m not going to lie; I feel a bit vindicated by the whole thing,” Mr Kealy said. “This is the first entry that I feel I had complete control over from start to finish.”

O’Shaughnessy will sing 24th out of 26 acts in the final, which is considered a favourable position, as the act will be fresh in the audience’s mind when voting opens. While qualifiers draw lots to determine whether they will perform in the first or second half of the final, the running order is determined by contest producers to assure maximum viewing drama.

If Ireland performs as well as predicted with voters, it will be the first time that the country cracks the Eurovision Top 10 since Jedward came eighth in 2011 with Lipstick.

According to Mr Kealy, what happens next is anyone’s guess.

“It’s not over yet. It hasn’t really started. It’s hard not to get caught up in that bubble where everyone is saying you’re going to win it,” he said. “I’m not booking venues in Ireland, but I think we can do well.”