The Balls TV Tear Down - The Toughest Trade

The Balls TV Tear Down - The Toughest Trade
Conor Neville
By Conor Neville
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So, we didn't get to see David Bentley closing any deals on behalf of the Kernan family's property business but otherwise The Toughest Trade was a brilliant effort.

The show gave what Joe Brolly calls the 'Gaels' a bit of what they wanted, the sight of foreigners being humbled by the intensity and physicality of Irish sports.

And one Silverbridge defender, who has no doubt toiled away manfully in the teak tough environs of the Armagh county championship for years, saw the opportunity of a lifetime and grabbed it.

He planted Bentley on his arse with a full frontal shoulder charge. There was an air of nastiness of about the hit if truth be told but Bentley wasn't in the mood to be starting any fracas. That Silverbridge centre-back's grandchildren will be sick hearing about it.

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 The Idea

The idea was undoubtedly a good one. By some distance it is the best idea an Irish bank has been involved in coming up with in a long time. That is not saying something.


It's a wonder no one in Channel 4 had thought of it already. Not even when they were making Wife Swap.

We give the idea a tasty five on the Robbie Keane celebration rating scale. Pat on the back for all the executives in AIB.



The Leading Men

David Bentley:

Former next-big-thing in English football who drops by Crossmaglen to play a spot of Gaelic football and do some auctioneering. He also has dinner with the family of big Joe Kernan.

And the man has quite a future as an auctioneer.

Nice laminaite flooring...


Big task: To play at centre-half forward in a challenge match against Silverbridge

Fictional character most resembled: Del Boy in holiday in Ireland - Fundamentally a cockney but good-hearted all the same.

Brian Schneider:


Recently retired former baseball player who drops into hurling country in Kilkenny. Surprisingly, the show did not opt for a guy with an Irish surname who would bore us with tales about his family's heritage. ('The Schneiders, I believe of Killarney' - there was none of that).

Big task: Keeping goal for James Stephens a challenge match against Ballyraggett.


Fictional character most resembled: The John Ford character in the Quiet Man


Jackie Tyrrell :


Kilkenny corner-back/fashion icon who looks in his element out in Miami - where, as the film indicates, it is permanently sunny - as he swaps his hurl for a chunky baseball bat.

Big task: To go into bat against rather cocky former Marlins pitcher Todd Moser. Moser is a former Florida Marlins and Tornoto Blue Jays pitcher of some repute but he has not yet been honoured with a wikipedia page yet. 

Fictional character most resembled: One of Don Johnson's junior colleagues in Miami Vice


Aaron Kernan

The experiment involving Aaron Kernan - seeing whether it was possible for a Gaelic footballer to thrive in professional football in England - had been conducted before, over a fourteen year period, by Kevin Moran.

Big task: Sunderland had laid on no games for Aaron. Rather they had a few training sessions and gave him a fitness test to complete to see whether his conditioning could match that of the young professionals in the academy.

Fictional character most resembled: A lonely Irish emigrant in Britain in a film from the late 1980s directed by Neil Jordan


The Supporting Cast

Each of the main characters had a spiritual mentor if you will - a kind of Splinter figure to guide them the uncertain terrain of a foreign sport.

The most inspirational of these was undoubtedly Brendan Cummins who taught Schneider all the tricks of the goalkeeping trade and then proceeded to take a puck-out with a baseball bat.


Naturally, when he did get a hold of a baseball bat, he fantasied aloud about whacking Richie Hogan with it.

Schneider nodded.


Crossmaglen manager Oisin McConville appeared to cajoling and prodding Bentley, special attention which Bentley took very well.

Jackie's spiritual mentor does indeed have a wikipedia page, Mr. Luis Alicea, a former second batsman with the Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Aaron Kernan, who showed himself a neat footballer, has no high profile spiritual mentor, but he does snuggle up in the Stadium of Light seats beside John O'Shea for an interview on the difficulties of breaking into professional football.


The Big Talking Points

Big Drama in Miami

The show gave us some genuine tension. Real genuine tension. Jackie Tyrrell just had to get a bat on the three balls fired on him by Moser. He was two strikes down and two foul balls called (after the first foul ball, he turned to the umpire and asked 'what does that mean... his bad, like?'). Last chance saloon. We'd wager Jackie has never known pressure like it. Could he get bat on ball at the final time of asking...

Afterwards, the pitcher Todd Moser was full of praise for Tyrrell.

He did great. His handling formation is unbelievable. It's the best I've seen. You don't take a guy and come in and do what he did - against me or anyone... Put some time into it, you could play baseball.


David Bentley kicks the ball like a guy who doesn't play Gaelic football kicks it

Bentley still fell into the habit of kicking the ball from the hands the way lads who never play Gaelic football kick the ball from the hands, i.e, by tossing it up in the air and lamping it rather than dropping it onto his foot.

Even so, he still lobbed over a couple of points, including one from play.

The editing on this a bit imprecise. For Bentley's successful free kick attempt, he appeared to hit the ball with a fairly low trajectory and yet when it cut away the ball sailed way over the bar, clearing both posts.

He also had trouble with the terminology.

- Yeah, yeah, good, got a couple of goals...

- Points

- Points, points, yeah, that's it

Aaron Kernan in a gym

One of the biggest talking points was Aaron Kernan's agility and fitness levels being deemed not up to the average for a professional football. However, there was an acknowledgement that Kernan is still in 'pre-season'.

His footballing technique was largely praised.


Baseball players have serious strikes on them

All-round good guy Schneider showed the natural power baseball players require by being able to power a puck-out 80 yards with no run up whatsoever. It was a case of one-step, bang. Cummins was his biggest fan. Sadly, he was denied what Cummins termed 'the clean sheet bonus' at the end with a late Ballyraggett consolation goal.



The show finished on a proudly nationalistic tone. Kernan and Tyrrell were content with their own way of life and the superiority of their own sports (at least in Tyrrell's in case) while the American and the Cockney seemed genuinely moved by the experience.

Schneider declared Brendan Cummins 'awesome' (a verdict which no one could dissent from) and after emerging victorious against Ballyraggett, seemed really chuffed to be able to say he 'played hurling in Ireland'. He also got on brilliantly with the teammates.

Bentley said the warmth and the camaraderie in the dressing room made him nostalgic for his playing days. He said the whole experience reminded him more of old school football back in the day.

They're trying to play at an elite level with the baggage of their family lie and work life... I've great respect for what they do. What you've found here was the old school element of what football was like and it was great to experience that again. It really puts you back in the mindset of wanting to put your boots back on everyday.

However, the biggest takeaway from the whole thing was Bentley's disarming soundness and he was positively beaming at the end. Tony McEntee said in the huddle afterwards that Bentley had changed his perception of soccer stars.


Jackie loved hanging out in Miami and said it was a pleasure to get trained up but his ultimate verdict was that hurling is way tougher than baseball.

Kernan was happy to return to his home place, saying 'there are very few boys who get to play for their home club and live in their home environment' in soccer.


Rating - on the Robbie Keane celebration scale

Sunderland didn't exactly play ball and Kernan only got to sprint up and down in a gym. This rather let the show down a bit and prevented it from getting higher marks.

Still, excellent stuff. Bentley showing potential buyers around a house in Belfast remains a highlight. We grant the show 4 Robbie Keane celebrations ratings


Just in case you didn't get to catch the Toughest Trade, you can catch it on the TV3 Player now.



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