Everything in Ballybrit rosy as TV3 bring us racing


TV View: At a time when its core audience were either in pubs getting drunk or in bed and thinking of going home, TV3's Go Racing came live from Galway on Friday night and wasted no time setting the tone, writes Brian O'Connor.

"Beautiful . . . aplomb . . . amazing . . . marvellous . . . great . . . absolutely unbelievable."

After that comparatively understated first minute the programme hit its stride. Presenter Brian Gleeson's friendly face stared out from beside the Ballybrit parade ring and beamed: "Brill-yunt!"

To be fair, the new half-hour programme is never going to be guilty of shouting "stale fish for sale", since the tab is being picked up by the State-sponsored ruling body for the sport, Horse Racing Ireland.

It's the recent trend to have sports governing organisations shelving out cash and providing their own glorified ad features on the airwaves. Go Racing is an example of the trend and for its type is perfectly acceptable.

Look-backs are followed by looks ahead, which in turn are interrupted by guest interviews, the occasional feature and most of all a continuous upbeat tone that almost frantically insists everything is up, Up, UP!

Normally Gleeson's exuberance is barely contained in a studio. Leaning forward confidentially to tell you about the latest "good thing", he can look as if he is about to sit on your lap. Released into Galway's open air, he gave it the kind of welly that's normally only pulled out in flood situations.

"The atmosphere is just amazing . . . it's a wonderful place to come . . . it's been a wonderful party . . . two more days left . . . do come!" It's a slick, sub-John McCririck routine that carries on into the previews.

"The chance for punters out there to make a few quid," Brian says, looking meaningfully at the camera. There is, however, an important difference with the whiskery one on Channel 4.

McCririck's persona can make people scratch their teeth with temper. But the upside is that he can also voice valid opinions that make the powers that be in British racing uncomfortable.

Since the Irish powers are footing the tab for Go Racing, such editorial muscle flexing on TV3 is about as likely as Aidan O'Brien high-fiving Michael Kinane in the winner's enclosure.

And as everyone who was in Galway last week knows, froth tastes okay only if there is at least the promise of some strong stuff underneath.

For a few minutes at half time in yesterday's second quarter-final at Croke Park it seemed like the Armagh players might be blowing the froth off a few pints in their dressing-room.

"Maybe they're trying to keep Laois waiting in the sun, a bit like Kerry last year," ventured Colm O'Rourke.

"Or maybe they're sitting in there with some custard creams," piped Joe Brolly in his best "aren't I a cheeky chappie" voice.

"There's a fine if you're not out in 15 minutes and a penalty for every minute after that. After half an hour you can forfeit the match," O'Rourke explained.

After a while the linesman went in to see what was going on. Then the ref trotted in. Eventually Armagh trotted out and the studio was full of talk of "psychological edges". If psychological edge means the same as rank bad manners then they were dead right.

All the pettiness achieved was to give Mick O'Dwyer the giggles on the sideline and to encourage neutrals to automatically root for Laois. Not that Armagh give a hoot for such niceties.

"The difference between the teams," Brolly explained before the match, "is that Armagh are so systematic. Armagh football is all about the elimination of mistakes. That's their system."

O'Rourke agreed: "Armagh could have posted a letter to Laois during the week saying exactly what they were going to do and they would still do just that."

Sure enough, after all the "psychological edges" were exhausted, an entertaining game came down to which was the better team. That it was in doubt to the final whistle is no bad tribute to Laois.

There were no such considerations in the first quarter-final. By the finish the only way to watch was from the behind the sofa.

"The overwhelming feeling after that is of sadness, to see Fermanagh humiliated like that," said O'Rourke. "It will take them a long time to get over it and it just shows that Tyrone are ruthless."

Brolly was so impressed one got the impression he was considering a jaunt to his local bookmaker. "They have some of the best footballers in the country. The only question now is if they will be able to push on through," he asserted.

Brilliance versus toughness: Tyrone versus Armagh. It would make for some final.