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We need to talk about Peter Collins

Peter Collins pic

Last month, for the first time in a couple of years, I decided to give an episode of Soccer Republic a miss. I haven’t even watched the last three on the RTÉ Player.

Tonight’s show will probably open with highlights of Dundalk’s brilliant performance against BATE in the Champions League and I’m sure the panelists worked hard to prepare analysis for us. Maybe the team have put together another one of those great montages. My God, the montages.

But I just can’t face it. After a glorious two week holiday, I have been dreading the stiff introduction to a “crucial Airtricity League Premier Division fixture”. I outright refuse to listen to Peter Collins anymore.

It is abundantly clear to me and countless other viewers that Peter Collins has no interest in football. He doesn’t watch it. He doesn’t get it. He seems surprised by anything that happens.

Is it too much to ask that the host of a football highlights show be a fan? I’d argue that it should be a minimum requirement to be the face of our league coverage, to have some emotional investment in a league that faces an uphill battle to capture the imagination of a sports-loving public every year.

His full-time predecessor was Con Murphy, a man who couldn’t help but show his love for Shamrock Rovers from time to time. No one could deny Con was a passionate supporter of the League, and he added greatly to the programme.

Inevitably, a few debates about poor attendances come about during the season and a man, who has likely not been to more than a couple of League of Ireland grounds in his life (off duty), is sitting there asking how “we” can get more people through the turnstiles.

Collins’ wooden presence does those who actually care about the League a disservice.

The Après Match skits this summer were funny but talk about shooting fish into a barrel. “The European draw was made for the Euros” and “Because of the strength of both squads, that game always had the potential to be a draw” are not things that Risteard Cooper came out with – the original Peter Collins said them.

Nobody speaks this way in a real life conversation, like a written match report read out loud, nor would they transition from one segment to the next with the finesse of a circus elephant, needlessly summarising everything we just heard. Hash tag no doubt we’ll come back to discuss this issue later in the season.

Unfortunately, like that uncle no one likes, I think Mr. Collins sees himself as something of a comedian too. He once said “It’s time to cease the pre-match banter”, ignoring his own Alan Partridge-esque advice with lines such as “Tekkers”, “Smash hit!” and “The Awsnal”, which nearly trumped Clive Tyldesley’s Oasis impression.

What has made it especially difficult to switch on the TV on Mondays was the bloody marvellous job his stand-in had done during his fortnight absence and her baffling return to the sidelines.

The reaction to Joanne Cantwell as presenter was overwhelmingly positive and not for the first time either.

We know from when she anchored a Champions League semi-final that Joanne is sharp, and Cork pundit Dave Barry, so used to getting a free pass when he goes off on a tangent and ends up saying nothing whatsoever, obviously hadn’t been challenged like this in a long time. It looked like he enjoyed it too.

Many fans commented on a good July 11th episode. The Stephen Kenny interview was one of their best in years, thanks to Joanne asking intelligent, probing questions of the Dundalk manager. It made for a lively show.

No one knows if Joanne Cantwell supports a LOI team (like Con Murphy) but it’s clear she likes football and that she understands the topic she’s presenting on and what her audience wants.

Joanne Cantwell succeeded Con Murphy as presenter of the rugby programme Against The Head when he left in 2008 and I can’t think of one good reason why she didn’t take over Monday Night Soccer too, after Con vacated the presenter’s chair in 2012.

Peter Collins would still be covering Formula 1 and the Olympics, and I’m sure, if we absolutely had to, we could tolerate him on commentary at the World Cup once every four years.

Oh.

MNS was rebranded as Soccer Republic in 2014, to encompass the latest news surrounding the Irish international team and shifted to a new slot (7pm to 11.05pm).

Champions League content was introduced and quickly dropped, while segments such as ‘Celebrity Six’ and ‘Free Kick King’ were replaced by a torturous Euro 2016 song contest this season (shoutout to Jacqui Hurley and my favourite MNS feature of all time, ’60 Sixty’).

The response to Joanne’s performance largely explains the apathy towards the show that I have noticed recently when chatting to friends about it. The audience has always been there, ready and willing to have a bit of pride and excitement in how the product is showcased, particularly after such incredible results in Europe.

The broader show will continue to experiment and it will always have its critics. A First Division highlights package isn’t going to happen anytime soon but here is one refreshing change that might please everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

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