Frank Brandon’s Column

Music, sport and Tommy…my TV guilty pleasures!

Still on seasonal gardening leave, our columnist has been exploring TV options…and has discovered what he’s been missing!

Way back in March, when this horrible virus first caused us to go into lockdown, someone ‘upstairs’ must have said we will try to make this thing as bearable as possible, and give those poor suffering folk down there on earth some good weather to help them get through this unprecedented pandemic.

Accordingly, we spent most of our new-found spare time out in the garden, learning about flowers and plants, becoming experts on bees and butterflies and other garden insects, walking the roads, breathing in the lovely fresh country air, and just learning to appreciate the rural areas a lot of us are lucky enough to live in. Maybe for the first time ever we found ourselves becoming familiar with the wonderful works of nature. All through the spring, summer and autumn, we loved the long sunny evenings. When the clubs were open, we played golf until nearly nightfall, and even managed to get to a few local club football matches. In truth, things weren’t that bad.

One of the things that got put to side during that time was watching television. For several months I hardly saw any TV programmes at all. Sadly, then we got the dark, early evenings, complete with loads of rain and storms, and all of a sudden the telly was back on the agenda.

Lately I have found myself spending more and more evenings parked in my recently acquired recliner chair (although I have yet to use the actual reclining mechanism, much to the horror of my family), trying to find something worth watching on the hundred or more channels that we have. The remarkable thing is I have discovered three shows, all of which have been on the air for some years, but which, for some reason, I only paid passive attention to before this.

The first one is on TG4 – it’s the country music competition, Glór Tíre. On the show, the top performers on the Irish country scene take a newcomer on board, mentor them, and put them forward to the competition in the hope of winning the whole thing out, playing for a big money prize and the chance of a successful career on the country music scene. Last week, I tuned in and one of my favourite singers, Tyrone lass Cliona Hagan, was the big star, and I must say she was absolutely brilliant on the night, performing better than I’d ever heard her before. However, it was the girl she mentored, Tilly Dawson-Shanley, that caught my eye, as she is a girl I have known for quite some time since I was working in Athlone.

Her parents, who are living in Glasson, are very involved in the world of horses and showjumping, as is Tilly herself, and I met them and young Tilly several times over the last number of year. I was aware that she was a very talented and accomplished singer, however I didn’t know she was into country music. I have to say her performance on Glór Tíre was extremely impressive. She got great praise from the three judges; they all agreed that she sang beautifully, looked amazing, and had a great stage presence. All she needs is for the local public to get behind her and give her their votes.

Obviously it’s a nationwide talent competition, which will be very hard to win, but I really hope Tilly can get the votes she needs to get over the line, win the big prize, and become the country star she deserves to be. I remember telling her one time that when she made it big I would get her a gig in one of the local pubs in Creggs. Of course that prize is put on hold for a little while, but I am a man of my word, so Tilly, when all is back to normal you will top the bill in Creggs. Bet you can’t wait!

The second of my must-watch TV programmes is Laochra Gael, a show that has also been on TG4 for a few years now, but has never really caught my attention. I think the reason is because it used to concentrate on all the GAA players with the most numbers of All-Ireland medals and those with the highest profiles, and I suppose (probably wrongly) that I always thought I knew most things about them anyway. As a result, I never watched it at all.

However, a few weeks ago I read a few newspaper articles on the programme that had featured Kevin Cassidy, a Donegal footballer, who had famously missed out on an All-Ireland medal because of comments he made in a book, ‘This is our year’, which angered then-manager Jim McGuinness and resulted in his being dropped from the Sam Maguire winning team. The programme seemed to dig a lot deeper into the player’s life, including outside football, and since that programme aired a few weeks ago I have seen two shows – one featuring Dublin hurler and Tipperary native, Ryan O’Dwyer, and the second one featuring Galway camogie star, Therese Maher.

Each programme made compulsive viewing, as they dealt with every facet of the subject’s lives, including disappointment, family bereavements, normal family life, and all the trials and tribulations that they had to deal with. None of the difficulties that the players had to face were in any way sugar-coated.

I think the normal two and sixpence out there (like me) sometimes think that our sports stars live in a protected bubble where they are safe from the worries of everyday life, but Laochra Gael shows that nothing could be further from the truth. The players’ lives, problems and all, are well and truly laid bare for all to see.

I believe Roscommon’s Shane Curran will feature on a future programme, and, knowing him, it will be riveting viewing. But in general, I applaud TG4 for letting us into the lives of people who may be slightly less well known than the top superstars, but who have stories every bit as interesting to tell. Watch out for the rest of the series (and you will thank me for telling you about it).

The last of the programmes is Tommy Tiernan’s unscripted chat show, where Tommy talks to people whose identities are hidden from him until they actually appear on set. Many of them can be almost unknown to the Irish public, while some, like actress Brenda Fricker, can be very well known, but very difficult to interview.

I never made any secret of the fact that Tiernan does nothing for me as a comedian, but as an interviewer, he is just brilliant. I think his secret is the obvious interest he has in all the people he interviews, his empathy with them all, and especially his ability and willingness to listen.

I often feel that some chat show hosts think they are more important, funnier, and more interesting than their subjects, and as a result they miss the opportunity to really get them to open up. But Tommy has a unique talent that makes everyone feel comfortable, and once again all I can say is have a look and see if you find it to be as wonderful as I do.

One of his recent shows, in which he said to our President Michael D that he was the wrong shape for golf, was just so funny. The craic he had with our Head of State was wonderful, which also made me realise that Michael D is another unique and precious asset.

Anyway, keep an eye out for all of these shows, and hopefully they will shorten the rest of the long winter nights for you and keep you entertained until it’s time to get back out into the sadly neglected gardens.


And finally…

Finally for this week, what about ten-year-old Aoife Ni Niocaill, who kicked her football into the sea at Woodstown beach in Co. Waterford  and saw it disappear into the distance on the strong current. Amazingly, the ball travelled all the way to Llanryhstud beach in west Wales, where, seven days after it went for its ‘swim’, it was found by a woman, Aline Denton, who was picking litter off the beach.

Her first instinct was to put the ball into her refuse sack and bring it to the local refuse place, but then she saw the girl’s name written on the ball, knew it was an Irish name, saw the GAA logo, and decided to try to reunite Aoife and her football. Through the magic of Facebook, she made contact with the young girl, and the good news is that the reunion will take place in the near future.

The Welsh lady says she has to be sure that her trip to the post office is an essential journey, so when she needs milk again (hope she drinks tea or eats cereal), she will post it back. Young Aoife feels she is now famous after all the interest in her story, but, famous or not, she says she is never bringing a ball to the beach again!