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Saturday 20 September 2014

Bertie relishes his time on the box but Des Cahill needn't worry, his job is safe

Bertie hosted last night's Road to Croker, but will the former Taoiseach make a move into TV?

IT sure beats Leaders' Questions on a Thursday.

When you've faced down awkward queries from an irritable Enda Kenny and fielded cutting one-liners from the likes of Pat Rabbitte, mingling with the great and good of the GAA world is a veritable walk in the park. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is, it seems, perfectly comfortable on the other side of the microphone.

Even so, Des Cahill needn't worry. His job on RTE's The Road To Croker is certainly safe, no matter how long he stays in Beijing. Yes, Bertie surely drew the audiences last night when he pitched up to Paidi O Se's pub in Ventry for his first stint at television presenting, but we were always suckers for a big name.

Even Bill O'Herlihy was finding it hard to contain his enthusiasm last night. As he signed off from the day's Olympic coverage, he kindly reminded viewers to stay tuned to the next programme, impishly adding that it featured "you know who".

The aforementioned You Know Who was all present and correct in his carefully chosen Dublin colours -- navy blazer and light blue shirt and presumably a generous helping of L'Oreal cosmetics. He may be a lowly TD now, but that doesn't mean a man can't look his best.

Unfortunately for the former leader, a man with a great knack for choosing the right moments, on this occasion his timing was a little off.

He landed in Kerry for his presenting debut just days after Dublin footballers were trounced by Tyrone in the All-Ireland quarter finals. Had Dublin won, it would have made his trip down to the south a little more enjoyable. Instead, as he mournfully told us, he was subjected to a severe ribbing from the Kerry supporters.

Autocue

Clearly on good terms with his autocue, the newly civilianised Bertie Ahern was doing his best to present a relaxed front during last night's show. And why wouldn't he? After all, his last foray into a sporting programme saw him castigated for being too "wooden".

Not this time. Instead of bluffing his way through the meaningless rambling that characterised his time as Taoiseach, last night his speech was perfectly polished.

He even managed to lament the "Tyrone tornado that swept down from the north" as he spoke of Dublin's defeat last weekend. All this from a man who once spoke of smokes and daggers, white elephants and red herrings.

Bertie had clearly brushed up on the cupla focail before going on air, treating us all to a few stilted words of Irish.

Every now and then, he called a guest up to join him before launching into a misty-eyed trip down memory lane.

Among his guests were former Dublin footballers Jimmy Keaveney and Paddy Cullen, who spoke of the days when the team were ferried to matches in a fleet of limousines borrowed from an undertaker.

Clearly relishing his return to the limelight, Bertie even plucked up the courage to ask proprietor Paidi O Se about his lucky underpants. Des Cahill must be delighted he's still in Beijing.

The self-proclaimed "high-impact sub" then allowed the sense of occasion to get the better of him. Over the course of just a few minutes, his measured, calm words were replaced by gabbling, loud phrases as he gazed dazedly into the camera and shouted at us, a la Baz Ashmawy.

The joy of talking GAA with the good people of Kerry was obviously too much to handle.

To be fair to the former Taoiseach, he even managed to poke a little fun at himself. Then again, most of the viewers were probably doing that for him already.

A trip down memory lane brought us back to the days of crepe paper hats in various county colours, an era when the top GAA players still had bellies.

These trends, we were told, were in no danger of returning. There is always the danger, however, that the dreaded anorak could make a comeback.

At this, the last great socialist of Dublin smirked knowingly before telling us: "Whatever about the hats, we don't want to see the anorak back." The less said about that, the better.

It's probably also advisable not to highlight the glaring typo in the spelling of Tipperary as the weekend's fixtures flashed up on the screen. After all, we can't blame poor old Bertie for everything.

All in all, it was a performance befitting a GAA-mad grandfather, right down to the twinkling eyes. He may not be a threat to Des Cahill, but he did somehow manage to keep the show on the road. Yet, take away the novelty value of seeing a former Taoiseach in the interviewer's chair and there isn't much scope for entertainment.

Steel

It did, however, provide us with a rare look at Bertie's inner steel. He was busy smiling benignly when one guest quipped that the proceeds from a well-attended match in 1913 gave Kerry people the impression that they half-owned Croke Park.

All of a sudden the carefully staged smile turned into a snarl as Bertie bristled at the affront to his beloved Dubs' home. Still, he didn't survive at the top for 11 years without learning a few tricks of the trade.

In the blink of an eye, the snarl morphed into a pleasant grin as our charming host reverted to form. But it will surely have shown this amateur that a career in television is not the right path for him. It's too cut-throat, too harsh and filled with way too many minefields. And after all, not even Enda Kenny was ever that cheeky in the Dail.

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