Is There Any Such Thing As The TV3 Curse? - An Investigation
The verities of the Six Nations derive from its conventions. Few competitions in history feed off its history quite like the Six Nations, which gives otherwise banal clichés some currency come competition time. Cardiff being a tough place to go; not knowing which French side will turn up: these fundamentals are part of the appeal of the Six Nations.
All change for Irish viewers now, however. Ireland were the first to pick up a bonus point under the new points system last year, and this year, another seismic change: TV3 have taken over the live broadcast rights from RTE.
Fans shouldn't be too disappointed, as TV3 aren't in the business of repeating their ragged offering of the early noughties.
The broadcaster have ramped up their game in recent years, evidenced by their fine coverage of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, Euro 2016 and the Champions League and a retinue featuring Ronan O'Gara, Shane Horgan, Alan Quinlan, Joe Molloy, Dave McIntyre, and Sinead Kissane promises much for their Six Nations coverage.
So the only nagging concern viewers may have ahead of Saturday afternoon is less how they've covered events in the past than the events themselves. For it seemed that any major Irish international sporting event carried by TV3 ended somewhere on a scale between disappointment and disaster.
Sports fans are more fain to belief in the supernatural than most, given that it is a way of rationalizing the outcome of something they exert no control over, so as the sediments of dismay piled up, a series of hushed voices ascribed it all to a kind of curse.
But is there really any such thing as the TV3 Curse?
We've decided to look at the evidence by analysing the major Irish international sporting events that have been screened exclusively on TV3 and deducing a Curse Factor.
Case #1 - Ireland's away qualifiers for Euro 2000
November 18, 1998 - Ireland are in Belgrade to play Yugoslavia, and for the first time in a competitive international, the images are beamed home via TV3. The game ended in a 1-0 defeat, a blow given that Ireland started the game with six points from six.
Revenge, however, was swift and screened on RTE: a 2-1 win at Lansdowne Road, which succeeded another home victory against Macedonia. (More about them later).
Next up, a trip to Croatia, once again live on TV3. Once again, it ended in defeat, and in a fashion that perpetuates talk of curses - a 94th-minute winner by Davor Suker.
Ireland then finally won a game in front of the TV3 - cameras away to Malta, but even that was deeply unconvincing, doing so on a scoreline of 3-2.
But given the strength of Ireland's home form, qualification remained a live possibility. Were Yugoslavia to fail to beat Croatia, all Ireland had to do was beat Macedonia away from home. The former sides drew 2-2, meaning Ireland were on their way to Euro 2000 as they led in injury time.
And then, in the 93rd minute...
Ireland were left in the playoffs, and ultimately went out away to Turkey.
Case for the Curse: It's Possible.
Okay, a relatively youthful Irish squad were perhaps expected to struggle on their travels, and given that TV3 had the away games, they were bound to see more misery than RTE.
But two last-minute goals that cost a total three points, particularly one as absurd as the goal conceded against Macedonia left Irish fans uttering sedition at the Gods.
There must be something going on here?
Case #2 - Ireland's away qualifiers for Euro 2004
Performances at the 2002 World Cup eased the absurd tumult that beset preparations, but the divides from Saipan festered over the summer months, which would make Mick McCarthy's job very difficult if the first couple of results in qualifying went awry. That's precisely what happened, and the implosion began live on TV3 - a 4-2 defeat away to a Russian team ravaged by injury.
This was followed up with a 2-1 defeat at home to Switzerland (on RTE), which led to McCarthy tendering his resignation.
Brian Kerr was appointed after half the country lost money on Phillippe Troussier, with Kerr's first game yielding victory: a TV3-screened 2-1 win against Georgia. The next game was on TV3 as well, which ended in a deeply disappointing 0-0 draw in Tirana against Albania. For fans of curses, Ireland had two goals disallowed in the space of two minutes.
Albania were then beaten 2-1 at home with a last-minute winner (RTE got the last-gasp winner), before subsequent home games yielded a victory over Georgia and a draw with Russia, the latter result more or less killing qualifying hopes.
They were ended for good measure with a 2-0 loss away to Switzerland.
Case for the Curse: Hmm, not sure.
Ireland were hoisted by their failure to beat Russia and the Swiss neither home nor away; that two of the defeats came away from home is unsurprising. The two disallowed goals against Albania seems like particular ill-fortune, however.
Case #3 - The 2007 Rugby World Cup
For a first time, TV3 stole a march on RTE regarding rugby by snaffling the rights to the '07 World Cup. TV3 broadcast the Irish games and some of the other top-ranking matches, with Setanta Sports dutifully showing everything.
Scarcely have Irish expectations been as high for anything as they were for the World Cup, which merely acted to elevate the height from which we all plummeted.
"The best prepared Irish side ever to go to a World Cup" was the incantation in all of the previews for this tournament. The preparation itself, however was questionable - a warm-up game against Bayonne left Brian O'Driscoll in hospital with a fractured cheekbone.
And as for the tournament itself...
lt was an unmitigated, month-long nightmare. Ireland struggled past Namibia before almost losing to Georgia, which Ronan O'Gara later speculated would have been the worst result in Irish history. France and Argentina then blew us away to leave Ireland shellshocked, not even qualifying for the quarter-final they were probably destined to lose.
It was deemed a blow to TV3 that they got fewer Irish games than planned, although it was probably no bad thing to limit the exposure of that Irish team to the world.
Case for the Curse - Nope.
This was all on Ireland. The preparation was dreadful, with the over-emphasis on conditioning leaving the Irish players jaded by the time they lined up against Namibia. The constant emphasis on conditioning bred an odd edge in the Irish camp, and it erupted spectacularly ahead of the competition, as Paul O'Connell writes in his book.
In training, I continued getting into scraps, until the day in 2007 when I realised that a lot of us had become so powerful through lifting weights that a single punch could hurt someone badly.
It happened at an Ireland camp before the World Cup, when Eddie was close to naming his squad for France. We were training at the University of Limerick and Ryan Caldwell, the Ulster second-row, was trying to make an impression.
He'd been spoling rucks all week, making a nuisance of himself. That was all fair enough - he was like me at the same age - but when he put me on the floor with a tackle in a non-contact session my went and I got up and threw a punch.
I didn't think I hit him too hard, but my right hand struck the side of his face and he went down, unconscious. What I didn't know then was that one of his teeth had burst his cheek and he was swallowing a lot of blood.
The rest of us had to move away when the team doctor, Gary O'Driscoll, rushed over to him.
I kept looking over, from a distance, and the situation just kept getting worse and worse. Gary was trying to resuscitate him and he had blood all over his mouth. He was roaring for an ambulance. Then he started cutting the jersey off Ryan.
I was shaking by the time the ambulance came to take him away. I was starting to fear the worst, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one thinking that.
The ambulance drove off and Eddie came across the pitch towards us.
'What's the story?', I asked him.
The story is, you nearly killed him'.
So forgive TV3 on this one, they just happened to buy the rights to show one of the worst-prepared Irish sides to go to a World Cup.
Case #4 - Away qualifiers for Euro 2008
Behold, the apogee.
If this case is ever to go to court, the case for the prosecution will consist of two videos: San Marino 1 - 2 and Ireland Cyprus 5-2 Ireland. The truth, however, is slightly different.
Ireland were narrowly edged out in Stuttgart in the opening game, a venue with enough emotional and historical heft to lend itself well to the appointment of Steve Staunton, a decision seemingly based entirely on a hope to recapture the Charlton era. Staunton kicked a bottle in disgust during the game, which left him in the stand to watch the subsequent unfolding horror in Cyprus.
Brian Kerr, who endured the ignominy as being deemed a lesser manager than the man in charge of this shambles, was doing commentary for TV3, and did well to moderate his emotions. He did, however, brand it an "embarrassing night for Irish football".
Having beaten San Marino 5-0 in Dublin, Stan and Ireland would then travel to Serravalle to face the same opposition. Incredibly, they almost failed to win, Stephen Ireland bailing his country out with a 94th-minute winner. At this stage, this was resembling a curse on TV3 - they had endured so many Irish goals conceded in the final minute, here they finally screened a winner, and yet it still felt a defeat.
No good could come of a nightmare campaign from there, and we eventually bumbled our way to third place, although a massive ten points off second spot.
Case for the Curse - Can we finally put this thing to bed now?
In truth, this was less a curse promulgated by TV3 than it was imposed on them.
They found themselves screening the away fixtures for one of the most poorly-organized Irish football sides in history, with the rugby world cup incubus yet to take hold.
Oh for the days we could blame the Gods for late equalisers in Macedonia. Here, we had nobody to blame but ourselves.
Case #5 - The 2015 Rugby World Cup
RTE had the rights for the 2011 World Cup, in which Ireland actually beat somebody of note (Australia) before once again imploding against opposition we fancied ourselves against (Wales).
TV3 would regain the rights for the 2015 World Cup, but the same would happen. For Australia and Wales read France and Argentina.
The spate of injuries suffered by the Irish squad in 2015 can be blamed on the abrasive nature of the game, although cutting to an ad while Paul O'Connell's career ended felt like inviting some bad karma.
Case For The Curse - Nope.
But Ireland losing a Rugby World Cup quarter-final is not unique to TV3. So if it is a function of the baleful Gods, they do not discriminate based on broadcaster.
Conclusion -There's no curse.
There is no curse. Instead, the denizens of TV3 are entitled to claim there's a curse against them. Instead, they've been confronted with a perfect storm of tricker away ties, bad Irish teams and occasionally, some bad luck.
Hopefully, this will put your mind at ease ahead of the Six Nations.