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Saturday, 29 October 2011

Presidential Election Shows TV Still Key In Internet Age

The modern-day world may be one of interconnectivity, of social media and of instant communication, but the 2011 Presidential election has shown that old-style television is still king.

Our case study today is Sean Gallagher, the man who nearly was.  His performance, finishing second in this election, is remarkable in and of itself.  While not necessarily independent, he lacked a party machine for canvassing etc.  He had no posters (at least not on lamp posts) and still was able to get his name out there, thanks primarily to his involvement in the likes of Dragons Den.  He entered the race as a personality, and people warmed to the familiar face.  For a while, at least.

As much as television gave Gallagher a boost, it also took him down.  Monday’s dramatic television debate saw his debate unravel before the nation.  He panicked, froze and showed the people that he is not Presidential, not according to the people of Ireland who left him in droves.  28% of the electorate changedtheir first preference this week, and of those 58% deserted Sean Gallagher.  That is 16.2% of those who voted –he lost out by 11.1%.

Twitter, in particular, is a fantastic way to experience news events, elections chief among them.  Those who followed #aras11 took part in critical discussion, humorous conversation and shared links to some of the most informative (and sometimes ridiculous) columns.  Voters engaged with candidates and their teams in a way that happens on the ground, but not in such an obvious or easy fashion.

However, while twitter is the internet’s brightest point, the reality is it does not have the mass reach of other media.  As of 5:30 on count day, 3800 people had tweeted using the #aras11 hashtag, taking part in this national conversation.  But on Monday night, 900,000 watched the campaign’s most infamous moment in the Frontline studio.  That’s half the amount of total voters.

There are few bigger advocates of twitter than myself, and this is not intended to take anything away from the medium.  However, despite the modern world in which we live, television has again shown it’s hold and power in Ireland.  More than anything else, it can capture, retain and influence the general public.  Ireland is now multi-cultural, modern and the internet is at the fore of our future, but our people remain entrapped by the old reliable television.  This may be 2011, but the story of this Presidential election is an old-style tale. 
In one foul swoop a dragon was slayed and a President crowned, while we all tuned in.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Dan Wheldon RIP

In May of this year, Dan Wheldon was the beneficiary of one of motorsport's most dramatic finishes.

Today, the 33-year-old father of two died in a crash while competing in Las Vegas.

Motorsport.  You never know what's around the corner.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Welsh Loss Set To Haunt Ireland's Greatest Ever Players

Losing’s a bitch.  Losing out on what is probably your last chance must be ten times worse.

As fans of the Irish rugby team, today we hurt.  This morning was a crushing disappointment that we feel even more because it was unexpected, and because of the euphoric highs that preceded it.  Yet as fans, we will have another day, many more in fact.  The Irish people will cheer for us in World Cups in 2015, 2019, 2023 and so on.  Four years is a long time, but time does pass.

But when that happens, things change.  Players get old, some of them too old.  2015 will probably be a bridge to far for the likes of Paul O’Connell, Rory Best, Donnacha O’Callaghan, David Wallace, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll who by then could be mere fans like the rest of us.  That list is not exhaustive – there may be more, but it may also be the case that some of those men hang on.  I imagine the manner of today’s defeat, and the way it robbed Ireland’s stars of a swansong on the global stage will perhaps induce second thoughts and a drive to continue.

Some will go however, perhaps not straight away, but they will.  The Ireland team of the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations will look very different to the all-too-familiar squad of recent times.  It’s still too soon for a post-mortem, when we don’t even know who is leaving, but when change is most certainly coming, one thing has to be said – today is the most disappointing day any one of them will have experienced in an Irish jersey.
We have lost Grand Slam deciders, blown chances to beat Southern Hemisphere giants, even lost Quarter Finals before today.  However on virtually all of those occasions Ireland were underdogs, valiant battlers who attempted to stave off defeat.  Today, that was not the case.  We were a team poised to deliver the sport’s finest hour.  Take into account the brilliance of the win over Australia, and the economic circumstances in which this country finds itself, and today’s defeat is even more heartbreaking.  More so than on virtually any other occasion, today we knew that victory was tangible and realistic.  We could taste success, we could dream of a final, and yet it never came.

 Perhaps it was nerves.  Perhaps it was a poor tactical performace.  Perhaps it was plain bad luck.  No matter really, because it was most certainly the most gut-wrenching defeat for an Ireland rugby team in many a year.  Look at Brian O’Driscoll’s face in the post-match press conference.  In a word, it is grey.  He knows it as much as anyone.  After the win over Australia, I wrote that the victory was an opportunity that had to be grasped.  Today was the chance to do that and it was not taken.  I don’t say that as a criticism – no one man could have tried harder – but as a fact.  That’s what hurts most of all.

An opportunity like today might not come for another twenty or thirty years.  Then again, it could come in four, but even then that will too far away for some of the golden generation.  We laud then.  We thank them.  We appreciate their efforts, toast their successes and today, of all days, we share the pain of their defeats. 

More of them spoiled the homecoming of World champions and slayed the old enemy all in the one day.

Many of these players made what once seemed unobtainable the norm.  They came to the cusp of success, before falling short and trying once more.

Yet more were humiliated on the biggest stage of all, and still returned.

They showed the best of a 21st Century Ireland – our maturity, our facilities, our tenacity and the pride we have of this nation – in one of the greatest sporting days of recent years.

They gave us a day the likes of which comes once in every 61 years.

Virtually all of them did the unthinkable just three weeks ago against Australia - in a very different way, what happened today was equally unthinkable.

This is not a post-mortem, but they are the achievements of the Irish national rugby team 2000-2011.  

Today marks the end of an era.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Modest Kidney A Man Worth Hailing

It’s a landmark that means little, but last week marked the fourth anniversary of one of my bigger breaks in radio.  I joined a national station, as a stringer, and for around a year I attended sporting events from Sligo to Cork, doing interviews and vox pops and compiling reports.

My first assignment came at an unremarkable Magners League game between Munster and the Scarlets at Musgrave Park in September 2007.  As is custom, I interviewed the winning coach after the match, and as well as getting his views on another Munster win, I decided to ask him about the story du jour in Irish rugby; the then-ongoing failure of Ireland at the Rugby World Cup in France.

The reply, in a word, was unremarkable.

“You’d have sympathy for all of them.  They’ve all burst their traps to put everything in place and, you know, it’s very disappointing the way it’s working out for them.”

“There’ll be no one more disappointed than the players and the management themselves.”

What makes those remarks relevant today, is that the man who uttered those words is the individual most responsible for the turnaround in the national team’s fortunes in the intervening four years.

I wonder when he spoke those words in the Dolphin Clubhouse in Musgrave Park, whether Declan Kidney thought for a moment that he could be best-suited to benefit from Ireland’s misfortune.  Would he have wished for it to happen?  No, I’m sure, but the Heineken Cup winning coach would have known that he would be a strong contender to take over the position in the event of Eddie O’Sullivan’s departure.  He could have stoked the fire, told me what he would have done differently, why things were going wrong.  He could have increased the pressure on O’Sullivan but he didn’t.  He spoke in generalities, in platitudes.  There was no criticism.  No headline.  Kidney kept his true feelings to himself.  That is how he operates.

Declan Kidney is humble and modest to the point of satire, but his ways do not change.  In his greatest hour, in Cardiff in March of 2009, he declined an invitation to stand with his players as they lifted the Six Nations Trophy.  He is not meek however.  Make no mistake, Declan Kidney is driven, focussed and determined.  This is a man who inspires those around him and without a doubt, has the full respect of those he leads.  Men are not as committed as Ireland were in the win over Australia, unless the fully believe in their cause.  Remember too, when Ireland’s preparations were in crisis after four losses in August, belief was never lost.  Just as there was no catastrophe, there was no delirium when Australia was dispatched.  The result was an opportunity, not an achievement in and of itself.

There’s no doubting, mind you, that Declan Kidney has been lucky.  There’s no Grand Slam if Jones’ penalty travels three yards longer, or if O’Gara doesn’t connect with a late drop goal.  And if Ireland’s defence were to relent late on at Eden Park, then it would be Australia who would have celebrated that night, and South Africa who we would be focussing on now.  But if he is fortunate now then he was fortunate in leading Munster to their success for so long too.  At some stage luck gives way to something more tangible than that, something more permanent.  Class, perhaps.

There’s no man I would rather entrust the hopes of a nation in at this moment in time.  That he is one of our own, that he is modest and self-assured in equal measure; both of these are vital.  Unlike Lefty Gomez, he’s lucky and good in equal measure.  There are question marks about some of his decisions – I’ve raised some myself – but for the first time in our history Ireland have a proven track record of form, an opportunity to shine and a management team to be confident in as we head into a World Cup Quarter Final.  

We dare to dream, as fans and as a nation, but our charges are grounded.  If Saturday goes wrong, we’ll all hurt, but “there’ll be no one more disappointed than the players and the management themselves.”

Monday, 3 October 2011

Always Remember...

An important lesson for all journalists, not least yours truly.  Being first is not always that important.