McDevitt goes off the ball, on the box

THE first thing to say about Eoin McDevitt is that the guy should have his voice insured... if he hasn’t already.

Long-time anchor of the three-hour Off The Ball show, the Dubliner has multiplied the strain on his vocal cords by agreeing to host Setanta’s iTalkSport programme as well as its Allianz League coverage. It is no surprise, an hour in his company flies by.

The voice has been a familiar one ever since 2005 when he assumed the box seat from Ger Gilroy on the nightly sports radio show but the TV thing is only six months old and he has had to adapt.

“TV is different,” he said, “For a start, there is presentation but then, funny enough, there is Newstalk TV now and other stations are doing something similar so maybe the lines are being blurred a little bit.

On radio, McDevitt has the guts of three hours to tease out the issues. Some discussions on the live GAA games are squeezed into 80 seconds.

Time may be tight but an effort has been made to push beyond punditry’s tired and trusted staple diet with an embrace of wider topics such as emigration and recent criticisms by some players of football’s aesthetic value.

“I wouldn’t be sitting here criticising people who have been doing this kind of thing for years but there can be a staleness to things, like with Andy Gray before he left Sky.

“The things he was doing at the start with the gadgetry were revolutionary but he seemed to be phoning it in at the end. There is no point doing it if you are not going to do it differently.”

It’s a policy that has worked well for Off The Ball, which combines excellent sports content with a chummy and sometimes surreal take on life that often spills beyond the boundaries of the so-called toy department.

Sometimes the most innocuous of events can spark a diversion down the most unlikely of avenues, as was the case when a text from one listener about Prisoner Cell Block H led to a 20-minute treatise on the cult Aussie soap opera.

Ask McEvitt to pinpoint some of the more memorable interviews and he mentions Jim Stynes on his struggle with cancer and US athlete John Carlos who detailed his life’s travails since giving the Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Both struck a chord not least because, like most of the best sports stories, they were more about life itself. The same applies to the programme’s documentation of Lance Armstrong. It was on Off The Ball Paul Kimmage described Armstrong as a cancer on cycling, a comment generating worldwide publicity.

Between everything, the TV and radio, it is a six-day week. A fair chunk of the seventh is spent watching whatever major sporting event happens to be taking place but even that immersion hasn’t been enough to crack some sports. “I wouldn’t say my horse racing knowledge has come on in leaps and bounds. I see why people are fascinated by it but can’t get it myself and I have tried. I even read Seabiscuit.”

- Eoin McDevitt presents Setanta’s coverage of the Allianz Leagues on Saturday night.

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