Molly, the golden retriever opened her eyes, warily scanning for the excitable toddler that had entered the room and woken her at 6am. The noise though was coming from the television; the high pitched whines and shrieks belonged to RTE’s inimitable basketball commentator, Timmy McCarthy.
He is Ireland's Mr Basketball, a former garlanded club and international player, erstwhile coach and someone who first commentated on the sport for the national broadcaster in 1991 when approached by RTE's Michael O'Carroll.
He rode shotgun to Ger Canning for 12 years whenever basketball was broadcast on RTE but on the first day of the 2004 Athens Olympics he went solo in the box for a women's match between the Czech Republic and Spain. Sean O'Sullivan joined him in the booth for the remainder of those Games, an understated Sancho Panza figure to McCarthy's Don Quixotic.
It’s a relationship that now spans five Olympic Games and provides a thoroughly entertaining soundtrack to the sport with each demonstrating an innate understanding of their respective roles. That’s important because otherwise it simply wouldn’t work; there’d be too much of a sugar rush for the viewers.
Even if there is a split in a household. I'd listen to the man any time; Molly not so much
McCarthy represents the PT Barnum of basketball commentary, the greatest showman, someone who manages to get 47 syllables into Dowwwwwwwnnnnn Towwwwwwwnnn, while other favoured expressions include ‘coast to coast’ and ‘boom-shaka-laka,’ delivered with a north Cork lilt. He provides the caffeine, O’Sullivan mellower in his taste of metaphors and the tone in which they’re offered.
On Monday morning the pair called the women's basketball game between the USA and France. The brief backstory is that France needed to win or in losing do so by the narrowest margin possible to make the quarter-finals, therefore creating an edge to the game. It's a feat the European side managed to accomplish despite a 93-82 defeat.
It was the American’s 52nd straight victory in women’s basketball at the Olympics dating back to the bronze medal match at the 1992 Games in Barcelona. They hadn’t lost in group play since the women’s side of the sport was introduced at Montreal (1976).
France had no one that could match up physically to the statuesque in height but certainly not athleticism, of the six foot nine inch Brittney Griner or the wonderfully named six foot eight inch, Sylvia Fowles, both of whom glided over the court.
While marvelling at the skill level of the Americans there was no doubting that the Irish commentary team wanted to see France reach the knockout stages of the tournament, McCarthy regularly going from bass to soprano in a nanosecond.
He wasn't afraid to throw in the old Franglais, frequently beseeching 'Lez Blue,' to do better in defence or be more ruthless in racking up the points. If the pronunciation was occasionally mangled, there was no way McCarthy was backing off when it came to tossing in the odd 'bon mot.' Why say three-pointers when it's possible to scream, "Marine Johannes from downtown, that's a trois. Left, right, inside and outside Johannes is the star of the show for France."
It wasn't only the French upon which he bestowed 'fangirling.' He declared: "A'ja Wilson's with the Las Vegas Aces and she's an ace for the USA. She'd eat your heart with her talent. You're joking me Tina (Charles), she's put a nail in the French coffin, going downtown for three. Tina from downtown, brilliant from the veteran; steps out and drains it."
McCarthy spoke about the Americans “going man to man,” but you knew what he meant; less obvious was that team USA was “slicing through butter that’s been in the sun.” Eh?
There were some inadvertently comic moments for those with a mind close to a sewer. He advised: “(Sandrine) Gruda is going to pop a floater,” and she wasn’t alone as soon after, “Johannes needs a floater and she’s made it.” All the while O’Sullivan was a font of wisdom, several octaves lower in pitch.
As the clock wound down in the fourth quarter McCarthy posed the question: “will it be Allez Les Bleus or Farewell Les Bleus.” Just for a split second between the two statements, you knew that he was searching for ‘Au Revoir,’ and like a final basket for the French it just wouldn’t come in time.
Nothing was lost in translation though. McCarthy’s passion, knowledge and enthusiasm, the substance in the style make it a thoroughly enjoyable experience, especially for the casual observer, even if there is a split in a household. I’d listen to the man any time; Molly not so much.