Euro 2016: Wall to wall football on telly and punditry in spades

Mary Hannigan: Just about every retired player will be on analysis duty for this event

Four years ago, if you recall, we had to make do with just the 31 games over 24 days, so we’d hardly got the cushions comfy on our couches when the final whistle was blown on Euro 2012. Thanks, though, to a proposal by the Republic of Ireland and Scotland football associations, the number of competitors has gone up from 16 to 24 – for all the good it did Scotland.

Among the other notable absentees are the Dutch and Euro 2004 champions Greece, the latter's qualifying campaign starting so badly they sacked their coach four months after appointing him. Whatever happened to Claudio Ranieri anyway?

So, this time around we have a whole extra week in front of the telly, 51 games over 31 days, which amounts to 4,590 minutes, plus added time, of football on our screens, so long as you record the clashing matches and watch them later.

Old hands

The expansion has resulted in five nations qualifying for the European finals for the first time – Norn Iron, Wales, Iceland, Slovakia and Albania. We, of course, are old hands at this business, having rocked Europe to its foundations in 1988, before sending it in to a coma in 2012.


The expansion doesn't stop there. Those who indulge in channel-hopping largely had three options for past tournaments, RTÉ, BBC and ITV, but this time they'll need longer life batteries in their remote controls because there's a new hopping option available: TV3.

There’s actually a fifth choice, lest we forget to mention it: Sianel Pedwar Cymru, aka SC4. Perfect if you want Welsh commentary. ITV’s efforts to sign up Ryan Giggs suggests their punditry budget is a touch larger than Sianel Pedwar Cymru’s.

And speaking of native languages – RTÉ will, for the first time, provide commentary as Gaeilge for competitive Irish games on the Saorview and Sky platforms, Garry Mac Donncha the man behind the microphone.

It was earlier this year that we learnt RTÉ had sub-licensed 22 of the 51 games to TV3, but somewhat greedily held on to all three of the Republic’s group games and gave themselves first choice on the knockout tussles too. TV3 didn’t complain, though, as they’ll have 16 group games – including two of England’s and one of Northern Ireland’s – three of the eight last-16 games, two quarter-finals and . . . the final.

So, on July 10th, you will have to choose between watching the final on RTÉ, TV3, BBC or ITV. And possibly Sianel Pedwar Cymru if Chris Coleman’s lads Leicesterize the tournament. If you hate football, just go for a long walk that evening, best avoid the telly.

The exquisite thing about the RTÉ/TV3 partnership is that we’ll have live coverage of both the final games in each group, unlike before when RTÉ had to plump for one.

And you know how it was, they’d end up with the mind-numbingly scoreless one, leaving poor old George Hamilton having to tell you that an eighth goal had just been scored in the match we weren’t seeing, a fifth red card issued and there was a streaker on the pitch. Now he can just tell us to switch over to TV3, so we’re the winners.

Meanwhile, just about every retired footballer on the planet will be punditing during the tournament, with a few current players popping up too.

But the chances of hearing a bit of sense talked will be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of three women on the Irish panels, internationals Stephanie Roche and Niamh Fahey on RTÉ and Emma Byrne on TV3.

Mighty presence

With Joey Barton joining Graeme Souness and new Hibs boss Neil Lennon on the TV3 panel, the channel can boast the midfield with the greatest bite, while on the Irish front, RTÉ have gone for flair down their left side in the shape of Damien Duff, with ITV opting for a mighty presence in the form of Richard Dunne.

The absence of the late, great Bill O'Herlihy from our screens will, of course, make the experience an unfamiliar and poignant one, while Euro 2016 will mark the end of John Giles's work with RTÉ – unless he does a John Terry: bids an emotional farewell, before renewing his contract.

Apres Match will be back on our screens and they'll be adding a few new faces to their repertoire, among them Kevin Kilbane who is likely to be Euro 2016's busiest man, working for TV3, BBC television and radio, as well as Today FM. It's as well he has a good engine.

With 51 games in 31 days, the viewers and their remotes will need good engines too. Come the night of July 10, though, you’ll all be saying, “blimey, that was quick”. Let the party commence.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times