Amid the deflation of Ireland’s exit from the Rugby World Cup and the fallout from Billy Walsh’s acrimonious departure as coach of the national amateur boxing team, the national mood could do with a lift. Thankfully The Anton Savage Show (Today FM) comes to the rescue, revealing the latest Irish achievement at global level in a highly competitive discipline. Savage is euphoric as he relays the news: “We have the best snipers on the planet.”
Not so long ago, such an honour would have caused some uneasiness, not least because of the ambivalent social standing of the people who tended to have expertise in this field. But it’s okay: the snipers in this case belong to the Army’s Ranger Wing. In the aftermath of the Irish team’s victory over their special forces peers at an international competition held in the US, Savage talks to Captain Liam McDonnell, a former sniper instructor.
The presenter veers between schoolboy enthusiasm and sober inquisition as his guest explains how the title is decided over five days, culminating in a “final sniper stalk”. But no reception awaits the triumphant snipers, as they have to remain anonymous. Asked if the soldiers could at least celebrate in private, McDonnell says he cannot comment on operational matters. and the two burst into laughter.
For all Savage's attempt to put a quirky spin on matters, the uncomfortable fact is we're being asked to applaud a person's ability to kill someone else. It's also about the most interesting thing to be heard on the show. Whether he is talking to Italian celebrity chef Gino D'Acampo or actor Miriam Margolyes, Savage's interviews are pitched squarely as untroubling entertainment with a middlebrow tone.
At least the encounters with D'Acampo and Margolyes are enlivened by the guests' natural vivaciousness. An interview with returning TV3 newscaster Alan Cantwell is essentially an account of how a media professional's career plans didn't work out as expected, although that makes the item sound more exciting than it is. Savage's default style – chirpy, with a laconic undertow – is appealing. But his slight material, and maybe his persona, needs more heft if he's not to end up a wryer Derek Mooney.
Such is the alarming nature of the missives on rural crime on Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) that stories of callous corporate behaviour count as light relief. On Tuesday, Joe Duffy hears from Electric Ireland customers who tell of having to enter a 60-digit code on their meters to top up accounts. The process is almost diabolically inconvenient. Customers know if a mistake has been made only after all the numbers have been punched in; if so, they have to start all over again.
The next day, irritation gives way to illumination. Duffy talks to Walter, a former ESB worker who says the codes are used to reprogramme electricity meters without the cost of sending a team to do so, while protecting the company from being defrauded. Michael, a retired mechanical engineer, crunches the numbers for Duffy, calculating that the code has – wait for it - eight billion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion permutations, lest anyone try to fiddle the meter.
It’s a ludicrous situation, which Duffy milks for dramatic effect. But amid the exaggerated hilarity, attuned as ever to the popular mood, he makes a serious point. It’s a damning example of institutional indifference for the public, particularly when top-up users tend to be on lower incomes. It would be comical if it wasn’t so contemptible.
Ostensibly a story of sporting triumph, the Documentary on One: Seamus Darby and the Goal that Made Champions (RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday) is in fact a downbeat tale about how one moment of glorious instinct can define and even overshadow a life. A member of Offaly's All Ireland winning football team of 1982, Darby was the substitute who scored the last-minute winner that prevented Kerry from winning their fifth title in a row. In the decades since, he has largely remained silent about his on-field heroics.
As Marc McMenamin’s documentary makes clear, this is largely because Darby’s off-field life was never the same after. The programme provides a snapshot of a time when sport was a less complicated affair: Darby drank brandy to relax the night before the final; the team strolled around Dublin on the morning of the match. But it also shows how unprepared players were for sudden fame back then. Having won the title, team members were plied with drink for months after, with Darby especially feted.
“I stayed out when I probably should have been at home with my wife and kids,” he says ruefully. His marriage eventually failed. Meanwhile, recession and unwise expansion caused him to lose his business.
Now a publican in Tipperary after several years in London, Darby cuts a reticent figure. His former teammates talk about his ability to spin a yarn in company, but on air he sounds wary about giving away too much. The most telling moment comes when Darby goes for a casual kickabout. He complains about being out of practice, and wistfully remarks about the great days of the past, but never sounds so relaxed as when thumping the ball. Sometimes, only sport can hit the mark.
Moment of the week: Callan kicks off
A dab hand at funny voices, Marty Whelan (Marty in the Morning, Lyric, weekdays) meets his match in impressionist Oliver Callan, who wheels out his full repertoire of impersonations. It's a familiar cast of characters, but his take on Barack Obama hits a nicely bathetic note, as he harks to the "plaza" – aka roadside services stop – named in the president's honour in Moneygall. "Because nothing says 'hope and history' quite like a hot chicken roll on the wet road to Limerick."