RTE's panel of comedians prove to be a sick joke

TV View: You know the way RTÉ is often criticised for not being adventurous enough to showcase the best of new Irish comedy, …

TV View:You know the way RTÉ is often criticised for not being adventurous enough to showcase the best of new Irish comedy, opting instead for inexpensive imports of British and American shows? Well, hats off to them, on Saturday night they made up for their erstwhile conservatism when they unleashed on us a quartet of home-grown comedians who made us laugh more heartily than Little Britain, Seinfeld and Peter Kay combined when they failed to choose Derval O'Rourke as the RTÉ sportsperson of the year.

Honest, at first we thought Eamon Dunphy, George Hook, Cyril Farrell and Ted Walsh were just having a laugh - "That's a cracker," we cried, sides in need of restitching. But their fellow judges, Jerry Kiernan and Pat Spillane, didn't seem amused at all, so we should have guessed something was up.

(Kiernan and Spillane, incidentally, voted O'Rourke Irish sportsperson of the year largely because she is the Irish sportsperson of the year. Quirky, eh?)

Granted, this judging business is entirely subjective, whatever floats your boat, but . . . world gold and European silver?


Now, you don't need to be an authority on sport to be able to recognise the genius of Henry Shefflin, whose talent borders on the godlike. Indeed the fella's probably done enough already to get into the Hall of Fame.

And the quality of that shortlist - Bernard Dunne, Katie Taylor, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Paul O'Connell, Kieran Donaghy, Aidan O'Brien and Jessica Kürten - tells us just how breathtaking a year it was in Irish sport.

O'Connell, we reckoned on the night, might, like Spain's Glory Alozie in Moscow (did we mention the world gold?), have had the honour of finishing runner-up to O'Rourke, not just because he won the Triple Crown and European Cup and is world class, but because he just seems to be an all-round gem of a sportsman.

But . . . world gold and European silver?

"There is no question for me that Derval O'Rourke has been the outstanding sportsperson of this year, by quite a distance," as Kiernan put it, and you have to assume if RTÉ had imported an inexpensive British or American panel of judges (which maybe they should do next year) and presented them with the mere facts they'd have agreed with him.

"Why are we even discussing this," they'd have asked. "World gold and European silver? Derval, no contest."

Although, we were left wondering if two of the judges were even aware O'Rourke had a gold medal in her 2006 collection, alongside that silver.

"I didn't even know about Derval O'Rourke till about a couple of months ago," said Ted of the woman who won gold back in March. "I think it's very badly advertised," he said. Eh?

O'Rourke was on every front page, back page, middle page this year, was the lead item on radio and television news when she won her medals, did a string of in-depth radio interviews with RTÉ, and appeared on Tubridy Tonight, The Late Late Show and The Panel, to name but three.

The list goes on. There are fewer ads for toys coming up to Christmas than there were for O'Rourke's achievements. How could you have missed them, unless you weren't all that interested?

And George? Well, he had us confused: was he referring to O'Rourke's European silver when he reminded us that "a number of years ago I voted against Sonia O'Sullivan because I didn't think we should celebrate coming second, so I have a problem about coming second"?

First is first and second is nowhere? Well, okay, but back in March O'Rourke came . . . first.

At least George and Ted had the grace to acknowledge that women's sport doesn't get the recognition it deserves, just before they failed to give O'Rourke the recognition she deserves. Ah, lads.

Earlier, Spillane talked of watching the BBC Sports Personality of the Year programme the previous week, and how "for three hours they celebrated mediocrity".

Harsh, but when you compare the BBC shortlist (Jenson Button, Phil Taylor, Ricky Hatton, etc) to RTÉ's, well, maybe he had a point. But, as it proved, the worse-than-mediocre decisions of four of his fellow judges resulted in O'Rourke's brilliance neither being celebrated nor acknowledged.

A crackin' night for Irish comedy, then; we even got a new joke that will rival the best. Did you hear about the Irish athlete who won gold at the World Indoor Championships and silver at the European Championships but didn't win the RTÉ sports person of the year award? Cripes, they'll be rolling in the aisles.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times