Rugby may be little more than a poncified tug-of-war, but that doesn’t stop NewsTalk 106 taking it seriously. Which, in turn, does stop me taking that station seriously (well, that and their inexplicably giddy afternoon presenters).

Now, however, in a blatant attempt to appeal to everyone who doesn’t wear pin-striped cords and speak like they have a mouth full of golf-balls, the station is. Oh sorry, we have to break for 20/20 news, right, er, as I was saying, the station that puts the “oh, absolutely” into “yes” has decided to come down from its high horse and bugger the bejaysis out of the smog-stained pigeon of Irish sport: League of Ireland football.

(By the way, I don’t say “the Eircom League” for the same reason that I don’t say “hold on baby, I have to apply a St. Bernard’s condom before we can make furious love, which, on this occasion, is brought to you in collaboration with Scrumpy Jack”).

Last Friday night then, the Newstalk crew took out their travellers cheques and Rough Guides and crossed over to the Northside to bring us live coverage from Shelbourne versus Bohemians, a clash second only to the King of the Tinkers in the Irish sporting calendar.

Indeed, Darren Ennis, Newstalk’s guff-crazy sportscaster, may well be a frequenter of the other main event, noting, as he did during the previous week’s transmission from Dalymount Park, that “lookalikes” (!) Bobby Ryan and Simon Webb “both play for the Gypsies and, with their long hair, both look like gypsies!” … and then turned to elicit the views of the expert analyst Greg Costello, the man whose hairdo is renowned throughout the world for inspiring the entire cast of Little House on the Prairie.

Darren, in fairness, seems like a decent skin. He has an obvious enthusiasm for the game, unlike, say, Trevor Welch, who you know was happily playing conkers in his Y-fronts until TV3 spotted him and reckoned he was just the man to front their exclusive Champions League coverage (is he the last remaining Earthling not to know the “Real” in Real Madrid is not pronounced “Reel”?).

But Darren has a touch of the Kevin Keegans about him (hey, Darren, was Keego in his prime a “lookalike” of Costello?), hurling himself two-footed into sentences without having any idea what he’s going to say. Thus we get comments like:
“Oh yes, that was a nice build-up there, you know, they did pass it and all”.

It was perhaps because Darren’s streams of consciousness in Dalyer were so heavy on enthusiasm and sadly light on sense that he was relegated to the role of “analyst” for the trip to Tolka. The main mic then, was in the hands of Declan Drake, a seasoned pro who eludes guff-spotters by actually forming coherent sentences or by talking, and, come to think of it, probably walking faster than Irish Rail’s Dublin-Cork express.

With Drake taking to the commentary like a duck to water, Darren was left to fight it out with Greg for the right to wade in with keen analysis every now and again. A sluggish start to the game found Greg in uninspired mood, in the first 30 minutes all he said was “it’s even steven here”, “there’s little between the teams”, and “a bit of a stalemate really”, not that Darren’s first interjection, after 8 minutes, was any more illuminating:

“We’re trying to find out for you how Bohs are playing because, unusually, Fergal Harkin is wearing Number 9!”.

The truth, Darren, is out there.

Harkin was to continue to be a source of confusion for hapless Ennis:

“At every set-piece so far, Fergal Harkin has won 9 out of 10 headers!” .

But Greg was also having difficulty coming to terms with the Bohemians’ attack:

“Glen Crowe only needs one chance to score and that was it. But he missed.”

After a dreary start, the match suddenly burst to life, and that was the cue for Drake to make an impressive bid for the quote of the evening award:

“This match has been like a boiling egg, slow to start and then it exploded!”

With breakfast at Deco’s thus deleted from the menu, the lads reckoned it was time to tell listener’s about their tremendous competition – the question:  “What former Bohemians manager is now in charge of a nationwide league club in England?”. The answer was worth waiting for…

But before that was revealed, there was still plenty of fun to be had in the match, and the gantry. Perhaps in a bid to keep up with Drake’s frantic pace, Darren’s mobile phone went into overdrive, “beep-beeping” more often than road-runner as he received text message after message from people listening to the commentary via the web.

Darren was delighted, guffawing with manic glee as fans from as far afield as Strasbourg and Chicago dropped him a line to say “good job”. When one punter sent him a message from inside Tolka Park, the technological wonderment of it all had him blathering uncontrollably;

“I don’t know where you are in the ground, but wherever you are, a very hello to you!”

Then Terry from Strasbourg came calling again, this time to ask for free tickets to some big match. Drake was having none of it:

“You’ve got two chances of that, mate!”.

What are they then, no chance and Bob Chance?

Just then, and between his now incessant laughter, Darren spotted some movement on the Shels bench, shouting  “And Tony Mac is giving some instructions from the sidelines there,” as Johnny MacDonald gave some instructions from the sidelines.

Meanwhile on the pitch, Bohs were desperately trying to hold on to their 2-1 lead, but things were starting to go awry for them. When one move broke down, Deco was amazed:

“Oh dear, that was a simple two-yard pass and he didn’t make it.” .

But Darren, aware of Bohs meticulous preparation, was truly astonished:

“Yes, that’s just the sort of pass they practice over and over again in training.”

Shels, of course, did eventually equalise, and as the players trooped off the pitch, all that was left was for Deco to announce the answer to the night’s teaser:

“We asked you which former Bohs manager is now in charge of a Nationwide league club, and the answer was, of course, \’Glen Crowe!!’.

Many congratulations to whoever got that right!

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