KIERAN SHANNON: McCarthy finds voice to be RTÉ’s Olympic hero

If you haven’t heard him over the last few weeks, you’ve surely heard of him.

The guy doing the basketball commentary on RTÉ for the Olympics, who insists any dunk from LeBron is greeted by a BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA!, observes that anytime Carmelo or Durant “spots, he nets”, especially when they’re launching it from beyond that three-point arc, that special place that, thanks to him, we’ve all come to know as DOWWWNNN-TOOOWWWNN!

This past fortnight saw Tim McCarthy not only introduce the delights of world basketball to the country; Tim McCarthy was introduced to the world. He’s become a cult figure, not just here at home where Newstalk’s Off the Ball team have paid homage by putting his distinctly-animated commentary to the light groove of a particularly well-known Petula Clark track (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0qBsQ34jSc), but even in the States where ESPN contributors have gushed that his commentary would power that country for the next hundred years and that he should be calling NBA games — in the NBA — pronto.

It hasn’t been for everybody but for every person you’ve found who thinks his style insufferable, you’ll find another five who’ve found him unmissable. People who wouldn’t stick a game of basketball have, more to hear what McCarthy had to say about Kobe’s latest special than catch Kobe’s latest special.

It has been particularly great fun for those of us who have known McCarthy long before his current fame and carnation.

After winning three league titles with Blue Demons and being one of the premier Irish players of the 1980s when the game was at its height here, McCarthy went on to become a well-regarded coach, guiding Tralee Tigers to an unlikely Superleague title in 1996 and coaching the national team for a European Championships qualification campaign. He was also co-commentator to Ger Canning for 20 years of RTÉ covering the men’s National Cup finals. At all times his co-commentary was like his coaching — insightful, authoritative and extremely measured. He was essentially basketball’s Donal O’Grady, Conor O’Shea, Colm O’Rourke.

Imagine so if one of those men was to suddenly commentate in their chosen sport as excitedly as Marty Morrissey covering Clare winning a Munster football championship or indeed him covering an Olympic beach volleyball contest. Imagine if O’Grady was suddenly indifferent to the puck-out strategy a team was deploying but instead was to exclaim “John Mullane: he shakes, he bakes, he scores!” as McCarthy once famously did. It’s like discovering a whole other side to someone, a whole other person.

The irony isn’t lost on McCarthy. All his adult life his day job has been that of a hard-headed businessman. He was an executive with BUPA, An Post’s First Direct and Ulster Bank up until recently becoming the managing director of a new financial services company, hello.ie. His coaching — and co-commentary — always put a primacy on efficiency and was suspicious of flamboyance. As a coach he’d instruct his players on defence not to bother trying to block the ball because it risked incurring foul trouble; instead they were to simply put their two hands up and keep their two feet on the ground and force the offence to shoot over them. If you couldn’t dunk consistently, you weren’t allowed to dunk at all.

This from the same man who as a commentator greets a Tyson Chandler rejection with an orgasmic cry of “GET THAT TRASH OUT OF HERE!” or every alley-oop with a BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA!

“When I was playing, I played to win,” he smiles. “I coached to win too. But when I commentate it’s for people to enjoy it. Basketball is entertaining and so should the commentary.”

But this transformation from Donal O’Grady to Sid Waddell on acid; is it an act? Not at all, he insists.

“I think when I commentate it’s just my natural enthusiasm for sport and basketball coming through. When I was co-commentating with Ger, my job was different. I’d analyse from the viewpoint of a coach. But as a main commentator I see my main job as enjoying it and getting into it because if you’re not, how can the viewer get into it?”

This has been McCarthy’s third Olympics covering his beloved hoops. The summer after Beijing, he covered a couple of GAA championship games for RTÉ before cutbacks cut him back. He has still been in demand to MC gigs; yesterday he found himself in Ballinrobe for the races only hours after commentating on another gold for the Dream Team.

Who knows who might come knocking now. Maybe he’ll go COAST TO COAST!’ and beyond and ESPN will decide they want someone somewhere between Tommy Smith and Dick Vitale. Or RTÉ’s GAA coverage has a brainwave and decides to jazz up games involving Donegal. Whatever about Michael Murphy, John Mullane or Kevin Durant though, there can be no doubt about one thing. In these Olympics Tim McCarthy shaked a bit, baked a bit and slam-dunked a whole lot. BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA!


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