So Brian O’Driscoll is to swap his muddy boots for the warmth of the Newstalk studio; as the national talk radio station announced today, he will co-present Off the Ball from this autumn.
And while the BOD Squad will lap up the news, it was treated with trepidation by some of the latest batch of journalism graduates, most succinctly by Pearse Corcoran:
Pearse is right to be concerned. O’Driscoll is many things – professional athlete and marketeer of energy drinks among them – but to the best of my knowledge he has no journalism qualifications.
That’s an important distinction, as O’Driscoll has been signed up as a co-presenter of the show, not as a pundit to speak on general sport or rugby-specific matters.
And what made Off the Ball such a great show to begin with was the delineation between journalism, fans, pundits and athletes. Those lines are now being blurred, which won’t help the listener.
You don’t think it matters? Ask yourself this – would any of you want Brian O’Driscoll to come to your house and fix the plumbing?
After all, he’s been taking showers and baths as part of his professional life for the last 15 years, surely that makes him the man to service your boiler?
What could possibly go wrong?
Or would you prefer someone who has studied and practiced the trade for four years to do it?
Great players do not automatically make great coaches.
Great players do not automatically make good pundits (and, as we’ve seen with Jamie Redknapp, mediocre players make utterly awful ones).
Great players do not automatically make good presenters.
The Newstalk appointment of O’Driscoll has nothing to do with either his sporting or journalism skills – it has to do with his fame, and nothing more.
It’s name recognition to get more listeners. It’s Pat Kenny light.
Even if he turns out to be a combination of Paul Kimmage, Sid Lowe and Hunter S Thompson (which, given the way he avoided saying pretty much anything of note for his entire career, I would doubt), the decision has been made for all the wrong reasons and is, as Pearse says, a slap in the face to professional journalists, young and old.
Ironically, the only media training that O’Driscoll has had could well prove to be to his detriment.
Players and athletes are told to speak in general soundbytes, never say anything controversial, talk about the team first, never criticise openly, never leave a sentence open-ended to invite another question.
O’Driscoll was a master at it.
But if he is to master the art of radio presenting, he will have to forget all that and start again – asking probing questions, doing research, checking facts, hitting the phones, doing more research, looking at his former friends in a different light, probing their weaknesses, checking more facts, not contenting himself with “the lads done good innit” answers, making enemies and generally making a nuisance of himself so that Newstalk’s listeners get the kind of sports journalism they have come to expect from Off the Ball.
If he wants to I can strongly recommend a course in Rathmines or London that hundreds of young, talented journalists have done recently.
A shame their names won’t guarantee these graduates the same conversion rate as O’Driscoll’s when it comes to their job-hunting.