Ryan Tubridy’s Cheltenham quiz should have been a non-runner

It’s an uneasy experience to hear a big online betting company given so much promotion

The biggest winner seems to be the sponsor, whose name gets as many mentions as Cheltenham itself

The biggest winner seems to be the sponsor, whose name gets as many mentions as Cheltenham itself

 

It’s nearly time for the annual festival that for many people is the quintessential celebration of Ireland, full of crack, crowds and wanton use of the phrase “luck of the Irish”. The feast day for Ireland’s patron saint may be looming, but judging by the airtime devoted to the Cheltenham Festival on the Ryan Tubridy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), the English racing event is the big date in the national calendar next week. 

For three days running, Tubridy spends a quarter of his show on the subject of Cheltenham, even announcing plans for an outside broadcast from the festival. He’s not discussing the form of the horses, however. Rather he’s running a series of “race minutes”, quick-fire general knowledge quizzes that offer contestants the chance to win a trip to the festival’s big finale, the Gold Cup.

It’s all very jolly, only slightly undermined by Tubridy’s apparently ambivalent attitude to the whole thing. As he invites listeners to take part, he notes “it helps if you like the geegees”. This does not seem to be necessarily the case with the host: he quips that while he’s been to the odd bit of racing, “it’s not my nosebag”. Similarly, the host’s description of Cheltenham as “this prestigious and by all accounts great fun event” is hardly a ringing endorsement, particularly given his usual ability to work up enthusiasm about the most mundane items.

As it happens, the quizzes are as much advertisement as they are filler items, sponsored as they are by a well-known Irish bookmaking firm, who we’ll call Patrick Powerless. And in the end, Tubridy’s “races” seem suspiciously fixed. He allows extra questions after participants have crossed the finishing line, so to speak. In the end, everyone’s a winner, with even the runners-up bagging a jaunt to Cheltenham. But the biggest winner seems to be the sponsor, whose name gets as many mentions as Cheltenham itself. 

Throughout it all, Tubridy himself sounds distinctly unengaged. He sounds much happier trading platitudes with Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood or Dancing With the Stars contestant Alannah Beirne. Then again, it’s an uneasy experience to hear a big online betting company given so much promotion in advance of an event that will earn them millions.

But Tubridy is capable of coming up with tone-deaf items on his own. On Thursday, he celebrates International Women’s Day by broadcasting from that well-known seat of gender equality, the Dáil. By way of underlining how much progress women have made in what Tubridy calls “the seat of power”, his first guests are usher Phil Donnelly (a woman), chef Julie Lyons (a woman, who points out the head chef is a man) and Ceann Comhairle Séan Ó Fearghail (a man). Lest anyone miss the imbalance in roles on show, Tubridy goes on to ask his female guests – but not his male one – who was their favourite Taoiseach. 

To be fair, after a lengthy interview with President Michael D Higgins, the presenter hosts a wide-ranging discussion with three female members of the Oireachtas. But the combination of occasion and setting is poorly thought through. Like the sponsored quiz, it should have been a non-runner. 

A flutter on the horses is of course “great fun” for many, but its flipside is highlighted on Monday’s edition of Ray D’Arcy Show (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays). D’Arcy talks to Tony O’Reilly, the former An Post manager who was imprisoned for stealing €1.7 million from work to fund his gambling addiction. The betting firm behind Tubridy’s quiz again features heavily here, though in a less flattering light. O’Reilly’s newly published memoir is entitled Tony 10, after the name he used for his online account with the bookmaker, who we’ll now call Paddy Power. 

D’Arcy’s guest describes how a one pound bet on a match in the 1998 World Cup developed into a problem which saw him staking a total of €10 million on his account. O’Reilly evokes the rush of gambling, from his wonder at “how easy it was” to win money to the thrill of “predicting the future” with a winning bet. But he also feels that “gambling was a way of coping with other issues”. 

In the end, O’Reilly’s habit consumed his life. Slipping into colossal debt, skimming money from work and family, he bet so heavily that he would win nearly €500,000 over a weekend only to lose it in 12 hours. “Where I went to, to fuel my addiction, that’s so far from where I consider myself as a person,” he recalls. 

D’Arcy lets his audibly nervous guest tell his story, perhaps conscious of not breaking the flow: at one point, the host even apologises for asking “a ridiculous question”. But he also keeps pushing O’Reilly, even when he tears up after revealing how he considered taking his own life. When he was eventually caught for his crimes, “the overriding feeling was one of relief”.

It’s a gripping piece of radio, a story of anxiety, hurt and deceit, but also redemption: O’Reilly is now an addiction counsellor. But his personal experiences also raise wider questions. Declan Lynch, co-author of the memoir, wryly contrasts the betting industry’s occasional campaigns for “responsible gambling” with the invitations to sporting events that Paddy Power issued to O’Reilly when he was still betting. 

The item strikes a chord. “Will ye two come back?” D’Arcy asks O’Reilly and Lynch, as he proposes hosting a special edition devoted to gambling addiction. Finding a sponsor for that show might be a long shot, however.

Radio Moment of the Week: Petty cash

On Wednesday’s edition of Liveline (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), Joe Duffy talks to recently widowed caller Peadar, who has received a letter from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform asking him to refund an overpayment made into his late wife Peggy’s pension: the princely sum of €5.90. (Her weekly pension was €1.80.) In response, the department issues a statement apologising for any hurt caused to Peadar, while whingeing that he had contacted Duffy instead. The statement adds that instances such as Peadar’s occur regularly, as the department has to recover “taxpayers’ money”. Liveline is to be applauded for highlighting such scrupulous fiscal responsibility from the State that, in case you’d forgotten, handed over €64 billion of taxpayers’ money to bail out irresponsible banks. Grrr.

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