Mick O’Keeffe believes The Late Late Show missed a great opportunity to dig deeper into the real Paul McGrath.

At one stage during Ireland’s most watched chat show on Friday evening, Ryan Tubridy asked Paul McGrath whether he played any matches while under the influence of alcohol. The obvious answer was delivered and even better, didn’t our Paul win a number of Man of the Match awards while, as a Fine Gael man famously said of Brian Cowen, being half way between hungover and drunk.

The crowd gave a chuckle and applause and Tubridy nodded in approval.

This moment neatly summed up a wasted opportunity for a decent insightful interview.

I am a fan of Ryan Tubridy. In fact, I personally think he is one of the most talented presenters RTE has ever produced. However, Ryan isn’t at home with sporting legends and certainly some of his researchers may need a little kick in the hole for the notes they supplied him with, all lifted from Vincent Hogan’s excellent yet overly dark account of McGrath’s life.

Why oh why must every time McGrath puts his head up must we focus solely on the now tired topic of his drinking and depression? Sure, this is very much central to who Paul is, but there is sooooo much more.

I love Paul McGrath (love may be a strong word).

He is one of our greatest ever Irish sportspersons and a truly fascinating character. I saw him play for Saint Pats when he was the Black Pearl of Inchicore (coined by the Indo’s Karl McGinty and not a nickname one would imagine getting past the sports desk and editors in these politically days).

I remember my Dad and I travelling to Phibsboro and watch him make his Ireland debut in 1985 against Italy when 45,000 people crushed into Dalymount to see the then World Champions against a super but underachieving Irish team.

I watched him play for United and Villa and most importantly perform Spartan soldieresque heroics against the major soccer nations of the world on the biggest stages. I loved McGrath but I hated the fascination the media and public had with his drinking which was almost glorified the same way Alex Higgins was.

The Late Late Show missed a golden opportunity to talk to the new Paul McGrath and get his thoughts on a wide range of issues. I screamed at the telly as question after question came in about drink and depression.

McGrath is a super intelligent if extremely shy and brittle character. Football was his crutch and football made him money and got him women and made him somebody. Drink did more or less the same things.

I realise that this was not Off the Ball and is a national chat show but why didn’t Tubs delve deeper into McGrath’s thoughts on racism in football and the recent Suarez and Ferdinand cases? What was Paul’s view as a black footballer?

What did Paul really make of Gary Speed and did he welcome the now open discussions about depression?

What was it like for McGrath living in the Borough of Dun Laoghaire, an area with a rich soccer tradition with St Josephs Boys, Pearse Rovers, TEK and Dalkey United? Did he ever want to play GAA? Did he have regrets that he never made full use of his enormous physical prowess and god given talent? What did a man with his deep intelligence think of the post Celtic Tiger Ireland of today compared to the grim Ireland of the mid 80s when he left? What about the crazy money in football? And so on and so on?

Never mind the great games he played and great players he marked? What was it like to win Man of the Match in the 85 Cup Final after his mate Kevin Moran famously saw red? What does he think of Fergie lasting all that time? Did he regret not winning titles with United in the early 90s?? Did he seriously consider going toItaly to play with Napoli? Is he bored now? How will Ireland do in Euro 2012? Is Trap too negative??

Did we get an insight into any of this? No, we were given the same old guff about drinking and getting thrown out of United and depression…all lifted from Hogan’s book…an award winning book but one that gave far too little time to on field exploits.

Look, I don’t want to hammer the Late Late as it’s a tough job and the Show must treat the audience like they know feck all but the Show would be far better off having at least one decent in depth Parkinson style interview. Surprise us with interesting questions….

We got a little glimpse of McGrath the man at the end as he became more comfortable with Ryan but will we ever really know what this fascinating man really thinks?

Opportunity lost I am afraid.

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This article first appeared on Irish Media Watch by Pembroke Communications. Mick is the gaffer.



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