Radio: Presenters playing the World Cup for laughs are scoring an own goal

It’s bad enough that the soccer agnostics complain incessantly about the soccer tournament, but do we need so many wacky items on air?

We are, one might have noticed, in the midst of a mania that grips otherwise sensible individuals once every four years, when sound judgment is replaced by obsession and near derangement for a month or so. You know the World Cup is in full swing when you're constantly assailed by people complaining about soccer being everywhere, griping about the triviality of the game and generally trying to put a damper on everyone else's fun.

So there are ads for The John Creedon Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) in which the spoilsport presenter promises a "World Cup-free zone". Boo! On Morning Ireland (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) we hear Cathal Mac Coille end an item on the Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez's biting of an Italian defender with a promise that the next story is on "something serious". Hiss!

These refuseniks may feel alienated by the tournament’s ubiquity, but their grievances are as nothing compared with those of football fans, who have to endure one zany World Cup item after another, as radio broadcasters scramble to jump on the bandwagon. Never the most earnest of forums, The John Murray Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays) has been running its own alternative competition in the form of a World Cup Supporters’ Club.

Murray has recruited listeners with varying degrees of connection to the competing nations, with whom he discusses the previous night’s matches. It’s a cute idea that chimes with an overriding priority for radio bosses everywhere – audience interaction – but it falls flat because bland platitudes rather than zingy irreverence tend be the norm when strangers converse on air.


Hence we learn that Eithne, a Dutch supporter, and Jan, a Belgian fan, watched matches on their own. Murray’s questions hardly raise the temperature. “Have you a flag to hang out?” he asks Eithne. If such fireworks don’t leave you breathless, there’s also the revelation that Jan’s nephew went to the same school as James, a Russian supporter. True story.

Murray sticks to the World Cup theme when he talks to Brian, apparently the first referee in Ireland to adopt the tournament’s innovative practice of marking out positions for free kicks with a temporary spray. Brian admittedly uses shaving foam when officiating his under-12s game, but Murray is alive to the significance of the moment. “You’ve probably made history,” he says. The presenter imparts his customary good humour throughout, but it is flimsy stuff.

Still, Murray's story looks like a hard-hitting exposé of Fifa corruption compared with the fare on Mooney (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). Derek Mooney talks to Marie, the owner of a cat that has predicted that Germany and the Netherlands will be the World Cup finalists, using the venerable method of pawing two pieces of paper away from a pile. The presenter treats the item with the daffiness due a feline tipster. When Marie, a keen nutritionist, goes on to claim that she can cure Mooney of arthritis in his back, he declares her his "favourite listener".

But like the new best friend who is too good to be true, Marie’s exchanges with Mooney become somewhat frayed. Marie extols the virtues of her cat, saying “she has a mind of her own”. “Every cat in the world has a mind of its own,” replies the host. When Mooney sounds a dubious note when his guest’s nutrition-based prescription for his back trouble includes broadsides against microwaves and the multinational food giant Monsanto, Marie becomes tetchy. “The problem is you are what you eat,” she says. “I don’t have the problem with my back.”

By the end Mooney and his coanchors have the giddy air of people who have just seen an eccentric but awkward relative out the door. Still, they might stop laughing if that cat turns out to be right.

The World Cup also features on The Pat Kenny Show (Newstalk, weekdays), although, as one would expect from the seasoned broadcaster, Kenny takes a more vigorously empirical approach as he addresses the Suárez incident. Discussing the issue with John Giles, he recalls knowing a child, "notorious for biting people", who visited the pets' corner in the zoo. "I think a goat bit the child, and the mother was delighted because the child never bit anyone again," Kenny says, a little too gleefully.

Apart from this unexpected diversion into football affairs, Kenny sticks to heftier matters on Wednesday, the highlight being his wide-ranging interview with the novelist Jennifer Johnston. The writer displays dry wit and hard-won wisdom as she talks about the persistent nature of violence, from the first World War to the Troubles, which she calls "the last battle of the Reformation". And while she notes that today's hero is "someone who blows a whistle rather than rides into battle waving a sword," she is clear-eyed about our enduring prejudices.

Discussing this week’s royal visit to Northern Ireland, during which Queen Elizabeth was flanked by Martin McGuinness and Peter Robinson, Johnston declares herself “tired of all this symbolic stuff”. She says “the North has not changed very much, and nobody seems to be doing very much about it”.

It’s a glum verdict, all the more so for having the ring of truth. No wonder people want to talk about football.

Moment of the Week: Dunphy loses count
Sticking with the World Cup theme, Eamon Dunphy talks about the tournament to Áine Lawlor, standing in for Marian Finucane (RTÉ Radio 1, Sunday). Enthusing about the on-field excitement, Dunphy says, "They extended it this year from 24 nations to 32 – people thought that wouldn't work, because they thought more small nations would mean bad matches. Just the opposite happened." All true, in a deep sense. The tournament was indeed expanded to 32 teams – back in 1998.