Seán Óg, Sher­gar, Fran­cis, An­thony and other gods of the small screen

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - CULTURE - John Boland RAN­SOM SEEK­ERS

If you were look­ing for even a smidgen of de­tach­ment from RTÉ1’s new three-part series, The Game: The Story of Hurl­ing, you had clearly come to the wrong place. “Hurl­ing’s a game for the gods and gods play it,” we were told at the out­set of this week’s first in­stal­ment, and that set the tone for a pro­mo­tional ex­er­cise that brooked no dis­sent from its de­vo­tional pieties.

This, I sup­pose, was to be ex­pected from a series that had been made, as the end ti­tles in­formed us, “with the sup­port of the GAA”, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer to feel some­what alien­ated from the re­peated in­sis­tence on an “iden­tity” that seem­ingly only hurl­ing could be­stow on the na­tion and its in­hab­i­tants.

A suc­ces­sion of sound­bites from the game’s great and good told of the “sa­cred soil” of Croke Park, and of how “no­body owns hurl­ing, hurl­ing just lives”, and, of course, about how it’s an es­sen­tial “part of what we are”, even though that’s not true of my­self or many oth­ers who live in this coun­try.

Vis­ually, Gerry Nel­son’s film was ar­rest­ing, but its re­liance on rev­er­en­tial plat­i­tudes made for a bit of a slog, and it re­ally only came to life at the very end when the Fiji-born Seán Óg Ó hAilpín spoke with real feel­ing about ar­riv­ing in Cork as a boy and only over­com­ing his sense of be­ing an out­sider when he joined his school­mates in the play­ing of hurl­ing — thereby, as he said, on the way to ful­fill­ing “the great­est hu­man need: to be loved and ac­cepted”.

This out­stand­ing Cork player was also the sub­ject of this week’s An Lá a Ru­gadh Mé (TG4), in which Harry McGee in­ter­views celebri­ties who were born on a par­tic­u­lar day. Ó hAilpín was born on May 22, 1977, and this led McGee to send him off to Skel­lig Michael, sim­ply be­cause the first Star Wars was re­leased in 1977 and part of the lat­est one was filmed on this for­bid­ding rock off the Kerry coast.

He was also re­quired to meet Johnny Giles, just be­cause Giles re­tired as a player in 1977, but the whole half-hour was as silly as it was ar­bi­trary and Ó hAilpín never got to reg­is­ter as more than a will­ing, if slightly be­mused, par­tic­i­pant.

In Search­ing for Sher­gar (RTÉ1/BBC2), re­porter Ali­son Mil­lar tried to frame the story as a mys­tery, even though every dog in the street has long been as­sured that the IRA kid­napped the great race­horse from Bal­ly­many stud in 1983 — a fact con­firmed at the end of this film by for­mer IRA in­tel­li­gence chief Kieran Con­way.

Along the way, though, Mil­lar in­tro­duced us to Sher­gar’s for­mer vet Stan Cos­grove, who in 2004 had pub­licly vowed, “I never want to hear about that horse ever again”, but who now, af­ter a glass or two of wine, spoke freely to the re­porter about the calami­ties that be­fell him af­ter he agreed to go along with a botched garda at­tempt to ar­rest some ran­som seek­ers.

Lester Pig­gott and Clare Bald­ing were among the other in­ter­vie­wees in a film that proved to be much more en­gross­ing than I’d ex­pected.

The FIFA Fam­ily: A Love Story (RTÉ1) was a highly en­ter­tain­ing Dan­ish film about how Qatar’s win­ning bid for the 2022 World Cup led to dis­as­ter for the cor­rupt Zurich-based foot­ball fed­er­a­tion.

Star of the film was Mary Lynn Blanks, a for­mer New York-based soap ac­tress who got in­volved with FIFA ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee mem­ber Chuck Blazer and thus wit­nessed many of the shenani­gans in­volv­ing the out­fit’s sleazy pres­i­dent Sepp Blat­ter and his bribe-tak­ing col­leagues. She was a lively and sar­donic pres­ence through­out, but the film’s best quote came from an in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist. FIFA, he said, was “like The So­pra­nos, but with worse peo­ple”.

In Fran­cis Bren­nan’s Grand Tour South Africa (RTÉ1), the host was again wav­ing his lit­tle flag as the group vis­ited the house in Soweto where Nel­son Man­dela once lived. It’s now a mu­seum and ev­ery­one looked gen­uinely awed. Later in the street, two young black guys per­formed a song and dance act for Fran­cis. They were clearly hop­ing for some money, but a grin­ning Fran­cis kept his hand out of his pocket.

How­ever, if you want a sense of South Africa, it’s to be found on Net­flix, which is cur­rently screen­ing 64 episodes of An­thony Bour­dain: Parts Un­known.

This is a real trea­sure trove from the charis­matic Amer­i­can chef and world trav­eller, whose sui­cide at the age of 61 this

June in France shocked ev­ery­one who ad­mired him. He was a bon viveur with an en­gag­ing af­fa­bil­ity, a brac­ing forthright­ness and a gen­uine so­cial con­science, and these are all in ev­i­dence in this CNN series, filmed be­tween 2013 and 2016. So far I’ve ran­domly watched four of them — Myan­mar, South Africa, Si­cily and Rome — and have had the vivid sense both of be­ing there and of feel­ing that I’ve gen­uinely learned things that have noth­ing to do with a tourist’s per­cep­tions. In­deed, in the Rome episode, you won’t find any of the stock sights, Bour­dain’s so­cial and cul­tural in­ter­ests ly­ing else­where Net­flix is also of­fer­ing 10 episodes from a pre­vi­ous series, An­thony Bour­dain: The Lay­over, on The Travel Chan­nel. These 24-hour stopovers in var­i­ous cities are more con­ven­tion­ally touris­tic —his visit to Dublin plugs var­i­ous bars and restau­rants, though it’s en­livened by his de­ter­mi­na­tion to go on a drink­ing binge from which he emerges in rag or­der.

But he dis­liked the com­mer­cial strait­jacket im­posed on him by The Travel Chan­nel and thus made his move to CNN. That’s the series to watch.

This is a real trea­sure trove from the late An­thony Bour­dain, the charis­matic Amer­i­can chef and world trav­eller

Glory days: Seán Óg Ó’hAilpín lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup in 2005 for Cork, and in­set, An­thony Bour­dain

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