Après Match TV review: acidic nostalgia and dark observations
The best jokes are in the 1970s-style ad breaks. ‘Don’t have that fifth pint before driving’
The sheer unlikelihood that Après Match would become a national fixture has always suggested that the RTÉ Sports Department was ahead of its time – even as the comedy dissection of its sports broadcasting provided by Barry Murphy, Risteárd Cooper and Gary Cooke gleefully suggested the exact opposite.
Since 1996, in one form or another, a panel of pundits have appeared on our screens in either the rosy afterglow of international competitions, or, more often, its dejected funk, to offer impressions, hairstyles and a level of penetrating analysis that seemed only marginally more ridiculous than the real thing.
As a second series begins of its most recent mutation, the time-travelling Après Match of the Day, it’s getting harder to tell the where reality supplies the comedy and their embellishments begins.
“One day, we’ll look back on this and smile,” anticipated the speaker of an ancient poem, and you wonder if Mick Dunne, the pioneering GAA broadcaster ever thought the same, in 1979, before an arch voice-over put words in his mouth.
Presenting The Sunday Game beside a Cumann Lúthchleas Gael insignia as big and imposing as a stop sign, at a time when the RTÉ logo still looked like it had sprawled directly from a St Bridget’s Cross, perhaps he knew that these days – like the cutting-edge graphics of a digital watch – were numbered.
The opening episode depicts a nation – and a station – divided between two events: the 1979 All-Ireland final between Kerry and Dublin, and the arrival of Pope John Paul II to Galway where he pronounced, “Young people of Ireland, I love you.”
In reality, those events happened a couple of weeks apart (who would go up against JP?) but the Après Match team treat them as roughly equivalent religious experiences.
The funniest material is in the margins, where lengthy ad breaks of static images and perfunctory announcers look touchingly, mortifyingly authentic. “Don’t have that fifth pint before driving,” urges a road safety ad. “If you do, keep one eye closed.”
The team, moreover, recognises the freshness of spontaneity – some of the commentary has the enjoyable plunge of an ad-lib – but the guiding joke is an acidic nostalgia for the good old, bad old days; for an Ireland under the thumb of the Church, where De Valéra “plays the harp like never before!” and a sermon from a disciplinarian priest on Night Light compares boys to eggs: “They could do with an occasional bashing.”
That’s a standard line in national self-abasement, with the familiar bitterness of a post-Catholic society for a backward past (“He’s laid out like a fella who’s just seen a same-sex couple kissing!” says one pundit of a downed player).
But comedy and history can hit on exposed nerves in unforeseen ways. When an obsequious line of worshippers at the Pope’s feet includes the mention of a Bon Secours nurse, your ears prick up to hear mention of the religious order at the centre of last week’s discovery of infant remains in Tuam, and your temperature rises.
The past might be a trove of comedy, which Après Match mirthfully extracts, but it also unearths much darker material too.