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Watching the Mayo match on the radio

Watching the match on the radio

Willie McHugh

LAST Sunday we watched the match on the radio. We went to the inner workings of radio commentary, joining the Mid West Radio team in their new abode.
The recently-opened Media Tower in McHale Park has now become the gantry they eyeball proceedings from. The building still has only the furnished comforts of a work in progress. The painters and decorators must have clocked off in a hurry one evening.
This high-rise structure got its share of bad press during construction. But high and all as they went, they didn’t find any atmosphere up there. The sooner someone removes the panes of glass from the commentator’s vantage point the better it will be for the regular listener.
It’s akin to watching a match from inside a fishbowl. It’s impossible to capture a sense of occasion. The man on ‘the mike’ is far removed from the atmospheric roar of the madding crowd.
Like all other mediums who work from McHale Park on big match days, the Mid West crew have their own cubicle.
It’s from this tight space that Mike Finnerty, Billy Fitzpatrick and John Casey inform listeners what’s unfolding down under. Finnerty calls the happenings. In Fitzpatrick and Casey he has two willing and able wing men. Factor John Brennan from Claremorris into the equation and that more or less completes the cast. 
John is the silent contributor of this quartet. He scribbles notes of the incidental subplots unfolding beneath alerting the attention of an eye that might be trained elsewhere. In other great drama productions John’s role might best be described as the prompter. Or the ‘script holder’ as the more upmarket troupes like to call it now.
To Mike, Billy and John (Casey) falls the task of doing whatever talking needs doing. They are charged with hod-carrying the story to those absentee followers across the MWR parish on Sunday afternoon. The ‘anyone’s at home that you’d like to say hello to’.
Their voices permeate down hospital corridors, supermarkets aisles, fishing boats in Clew Bay, a slatted house in Purranes, a kitchen in Tiernaur or anywhere there’s an attentive ear. And technology now means their deliberations have gone viral. McHale Park stretches to places like Brisbane, Boston, and Barcelona and umpteen other ports way beyond Blacksod now.  
Their setting is the usual temporary arrangement of the workplace. Match programmes, bottles of River Rock water, easy peelers, notepads, a cheese sandwich, biros, shoulder bags, an extension lead and an empty crisp bag are left wherever someone decided it was best leave them.
There’s an oft-told yarn in radio land that, as Michael Commins ‘s signature tune is playing in the Ballyhaunis studio, the popular presenter is still only driving in through Knock. Perhaps so but the match commentators don’t cut punctuality as tight. As Angelina Nugent hands over the airwaves they have all the prep work done and they waltz the listener straight to the heart of the action.
Billy sits to Finnerty’s right. His demeanour mirrors that of a diligent pupil in a classroom ever mindful of the fact that teacher can bounce a question at any time. But Fitz’ is never found wanting and his opinion is always thoughtful and informed. Fitz’ can think on his feet even when he’s sitting down. He is ever a favourite with football followers and discerning listeners are acutely aware that Billy Fitz’ was walking the walk long before he started talking the talk.
John Casey is positioned left. He’s the more animated of the duo but only because he lives through every gamut of play and his impromptu sighs, groans and roars of approval is what makes live radio special. He wears his heart on his sleeve.
Both analysts bring contrasting styles to the programme. They agreeing on a man of the match selections are of a Haley’s Comet regularity. That’s because they have faith in their own judgement and a confidence in the calls they make. Their only brief is sharing their views with a listener who trusts them enough to be their eyes and ears on Sunday afternoon.
Such faith is well-placed.      

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