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15th Jun 2024

Opinion: RTÉ’s punditry has gone stale and it’s time for a shake-up

Ronan Calvert

RTE Punditry

RTÉ continue to disappoint Irish fans with their football coverage.

It was last Tuesday when RTÉ introduced a new face to their punditry team for the first time in a long time. It was the face of recently retired Ireland international James McClean.

And it wasn’t long before you wondered whether the Derryman’s addition would benefit the quality of the national broadcaster‘s coverage whatsoever.

Not because McClean was especially poor, but because it was more of the same. Ex-Ireland international? Tick. Not a manager? Tick. Not a coach? Tick. Not a journalist? Tick.

If TNT Sport guest James Horncastle was a breath of fresh air for sports fans when he recently illustrated his detailed knowledge of European Football as part of their UEFA coverage…this…this was anything but.

Unlike the frankly annoying ramblings of Rio Ferdinand, or the beige opinions of Paul Scholes or Michael Owen, Horncastle’s input respected football fans’ intelligence and football’s intelligence.

With the Irish managerial debate simmering in the public consciousness for at least the last seven months, this European Championship provides pundits a timely window to observe the rest of the continent and articulate what Irish Football should be looking to become.

You would just have to doubt whether a panel of McClean, Shay Given, Kevin Doyle, Didi Hamann, Stephanie Roche, Stephen Kelly, Lisa Fallon and Richie Sadlier will spark an informed version of that conversation.

Many will agree the best analysis of Irish and European football in recent years has been written on websites and back pages by people who never played professionally, but it seems the Irish broadcast media are unprepared to have their Horncastle moment.

They’re not even prepared to have their Stephen Bradley moment.

Inviting League of Ireland managers whose livelihood depends on knowing football (as opposed to just knowing their jobs on the football pitch) would still be preferable to the status quo.

Indeed, the best post-Giles RTÉ analysis was during the 2018 World Cup when coaching rookies Damien Duff and Keith Andrews added an intelligent freshness to debates.

Their passion for detail was obvious back then and it’s showing today with one leading Shelbourne to League of Ireland glory and the other assistant manager at Sheffield United.

As much as McClean thinks Ireland should go back to playing O’Neill-ball in the Lord’s year of 2024, football has evolved remarkably in the passing time to a point where teams actually require extensive game plans to compete. A point especially true for gap-closing non-Ancelotti/Dechamps teams.

Stephen Kenny’s tenure was undone by failing to turn Ireland 0-0 Portugal, Ireland 0-1 France, or Ireland 1-2 Netherlands into famous wins or draws but he certainly did an awful lot right to avoid results like Germany 5-1 Scotland, Germany 6-1 Ireland (as it was under Trapatonni) or Portugal 3-0 Ireland (as it now is under John O’Shea).

That means the FAI’s priority should be finding a candidate a bit better than Kenny at the tactics board, not – as almost every TV panellist in the country seems to be suggesting – chucking the damn thing out the top window. Are they serious, like?

Watching the first fifteen minutes of Germany 5-1 Scotland and imagining Ireland approaching that game preaching “dark arts”, “hard work” and “being horrible” was enough to send a shiver.

No Irish viewer is going to lose sleep about what Shay Given or James McClean thinks of Albania at Euro 2024, but a greater analysis of their player quality, formation set-up and style of play would actually be quite beneficial in helping fans to set realistic expectations of Ireland in the context of their European rivals.

If fan discussion is one of the key pillars of the football sphere then it’s quite important that these fan discussions are being educated – and not misguided – by the opinions being spouted on national television.

Unfortunately, the same old surface-level opinions are ready to hit our screens this month, meaning RTÉ can’t be surprised if a record number of Irish viewers switch over to ITV despite the many memories attached to channel two.

With Ange Postecoglou offering his coach’s eye, Gary Neville bringing a journalist-style critique and Roy Keane injecting entertainment not seen on RTÉ since Joey N’Do’s Qatar World Cup appearance, there really is only one winner this summer.

Exactly a year on from Ryan Tubridy’s pay scandal and here I am disappointed at RTÉ’s eye for talent.

You know what? Let’s cut it here. Bigger fool me.

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