THIS AFTERNOON, AS you settle down – or get riled up – to watch the opening Six Nations double on RTE, keep your eye on Shane Horgan.
Not that it will take much effort.
The retired international wing has been hard to miss since swapping his boots for the clip-on microphone of that divisive species, the television pundit.
Few come more divisive than this new partner George Hook, and Horgan’s introduction to the shiny studio desk that also holds Messrs McGuirk and Pope brought a freshness to the national broadcaster’s approach.
Hook – and the sledging he receives from either side – can be entertaining, as long as you agree to the premise that you’re taking your rugby coverage from the front pages rather than the sports section.
The ex-coach revels in his role as a polemic, and will offer more knowledge of London during the blitz than London Irish to illustrate a point. His faux-grumpy approach makes even his most effusive moments feel like withering, relentless criticism.
Horgan’s approach is different.
“As a rugby player, you’re very self-analytical.” He told TheScore.ie over the phone from his new home in London this week.
“Because you were exposed to the media and you sometimes felt you were very hard done by, because there was a general sentiment that came out, or a general sentiment to your skill level or you play. I don’t think anybody likes generalities in any walk of life when they’re taking criticism.
“If you can be specific and point out an issue – very often, what I found is that if you go into deeper analysis there are many factors behind someone making a mistake; or taking a wrong option, or deciding to do something that may look glaring.”
Comparing Horgan, 34, to Hook is largely pointless. The more suitable comparison is within the Meathman’s other employer. Over the office partition to the association football department. Months after Gary Neville took over as Sky Sports’ chief football pundit, Horgan took his first steps into media work and the similarities between the recently retired men’s approach is unavoidable.
‘He’s go to do better with that one’
Neville has gained rave reviews for his unwillingness to accept the Alan Shearer style ‘he’s got to do better with that one’ cover-all response. Instead of giving out when a defender is not touch-tight at a set-piece, he has slowed the move down to a crawl and shown why the error occurred. The ex-England and Manchester United fullback has also provided valuable insight into the mentality of a dressing room. And Horgan’s enduring relationships within Leinster and Ireland squads make his voice an unchained version of certain of some of the stars of the game.
Neville, however, has the best part of Monday nights to illustrate his point. Horgan is confined by time, and finds it difficult to put his stamp of technical analysis in between a hectic Heineken Cup day on Sky or the intensely scheduled build-up to a big Six Nations game. In the 12 minutes (minus advert and Hook- sledging time) between halves, there is barely time to replay a try.
“It can be quite difficult to always do that (technical aspect), just because of time constraints. Especially if you’ve got three games in one day.
“Look at the length of the programme and there are very short gaps in between them for analysis and it can make any sort of technical analysis difficult.
“So from that point of view, you don’t always get across exactly what you wanted, but certainly where I enjoy the job is actually getting the time and being able to go into some of the more technical details and the minutiae of rugby.
“That’s not for everyone though, but it’s what I find most interesting and it’s what holds my attention. So it’s just the kind of thing I focus on. Different people have different styles and draw different things out of rugby matches.”
It’s not for everyone, but rugby fans certainly appreciate it.
Shane Horgan will be part of the team as RTÉ Sport broadcast comprehensive coverage of this year’s RBS 6 Nations with all 15 RBS 6 Nations matches available in HD.