Italians spoil Sports Stadium retirement party


"Magical. Memorable. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe this Irish rugby team," said an emotional Fred Cogley on Saturday, on the final edition of Sports Stadium. What would Irish rugby supporters do without the Montrose archives?

Roll the tape. Cue Fred. "This is Lenihan . . . bursting in to the 22 . . . back to Bradley . . . back to Kiernan . . . the drop at goal is . . . Oooveeerr." Cue shaking camera. Mass hysteria. Victory over England. The Triple Crown. And the loss of Fred's voice. Cue Mary Hopkin. "Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end . . ."

Cheerio Sports Stadium, thanks for the memories. A good innings it was too - 1,025 c S Sports b R Murdoch. You did your best. It was David v Goliath and you weren't alone in struggling to read Murdoch's googlies. England's Grandstand was scoring runs at will too before Murdoch joined the Aussie attack and now their tail is barely wagging - their dismissal is also, surely, imminent (they showed Ice Skating from the Hull Ice Arena on Saturday, for God's sake).

"There have been so many changes in sport since I presented the first Sports Stadium on September 22nd, 1972," said Brendan O'Reilly on Saturday, as he joined Tracey Piggott to introduce the final ever show. Too right, Brendan, too right. Back in 1972 pay-per-view was the price of a ticket at the turnstiles; Cork reached an All-Ireland hurling final (losing, admittedly, to Kilkenny once they got there) and Celtic won their seventh league title in a row - with Rangers 16 points behind in third place. Ah, those WERE the days.

Back in 1972 the idea of Italians playing rugby would have caused a hearty chuckle down at IRFU headquarters and Leeds United were kicking lumps out of their opponents. (Oh. What's it they say in France. "Plus ca change . . . "?) It would have been nice if the Irish rugby team could have given Sports Stadium a cheery going-away present on Saturday, seeing as their match was the centrepiece of the final programme. But it wasn't to be. A miserable occasion in fact - the first shot of the stadium in Bologna suggested there were more people on the pitch than in the ground. Most shots after that suggested there were more blue shirts (of the sporting variety) on the pitch than green.

RTE kept apologising for the poor sound quality from Bologna, which made Jim Sherwin and Tony Ward sound like Teletubbies, but the worst attack on our ears came with the Irish team's painfully audible rendition of `Ireland's Call'.

Seventy minutes later. "It really was Bolon-easy for Italy," concluded Jim Davidson over on BBC Northern Ireland. Sports Stadium, still hampered by those sound problems, spared us ANY match analysis.

Some argue that the demise of Irish rugby has nothing to do with professionalism at all, rather it coincided with the adoption of Paul McCartney's Frog Chorus ("Win Or Lose, Sink Or Swim, One Thing Is Certain We'll Never Give In, dum, dum, dum, We All Stand Together . . .") as our `away' anthem.

If they followed the example of the mighty Jamesie O'Connor, Clare hurler and Players' Player of the Year, they'd have entirely different words ringing in their ears as they entered the fray.

"Cracked eggs, dead birds scream as they fight for life, I can feel death, can see its beady eyes," to be exact.

Jamesie partly put his success in the hurling year of 1997 down to this tune by English pop combo Radiohead, when he appeared on Network Two's My Favourite Things (part of the @ Last TV programme) last Tuesday night.

"Going from the hotel to the pitch I always stick the walkman on and just try and close everything else out and that song is the one I've been playing most lately, it's a great song," he said of the tune known as Street Spirit. It IS a great tune but how the words inspired Jamesie to All-Ireland success, it's hard to know. Unless it's that line "I Can Feel Their Blue Hands Touching Me" - tight Tipperary marking? Well, it worked anyway and Radiohead tunes will probably be heard blasting from every dressing-room come next year when the championship gets under way.

Whether or not Dubliner Audrey Garland needed cracked eggs and screaming dead birds to inspire her to success in the Gladiators (Saturday, ITV) we're not sure either, but what we can be certain of is that every shopping centre in the country will now be full of kids climbing up escalators the wrong way.

"I thought of going up an escalator backwards but I thought I'd get a few funny looks in Blanchardstown Shopping Centre," Audrey told Mary Kennedy on the Kennedy show during the summer, explaining her difficulties in training for the Travelator, an integral part of the Gladatorial challenge.

Audrey was up against Wendy in Saturday's final, filmed some time ago in Birmingham's National Indoor Arena, and she completed a storming comeback from 10-0 down to beat the "Chingford mother of three" to win the title.

The commentator was gutted for Wendy. "It has to be said, it's not often you see a mother of three doing something like this on network television," he said as she struggled to climb up the escalator backwards. "Oh listen to little Holly's plaintive cry for her Mum - she's sold perfume, she's been a barmaid, now she earns extra money by cleaning and ironing but, above all else, she's a tremendous contender," he said of the runner-up from Chingford.

Wendy had to settle for a holiday, Audrey won £1,000, a car and a big hug from Jeremy Guscott. Then, just as we all started practising knocking our Grannies off the kitchen table with those giant rubber ear buds, in the hope that we could emulate Audrey's success in the next series, came the warning at the end of the show. "For safety reasons do not attempt to recreate any of the events you have seen on Gladiators." Spoilsport. Granny was relieved, though.