Jimmy's old blarney and the cocky Cowboy

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FED UP with fatuous goal celebrations? Peed off with pedantic pundits? Dying to watch something other than football, bloody football? You need to watch some football - the Gaelic or American variety - for a refreshing change.

Gaelic Games (Channel 4) featured the All-Ireland football final for the Sam Maguire Cup from Croke Park in Dublin, and what a cracker it was. Jimmy Magee was your man behind the mike, one who has not so much kissed the Blarney Stone as snogged it.

Throughout the rousing encounter between Mayo and Meath, Magee barely put a word wrong. He reacted to punch-ups very much in the manner of Bill McLaren: as the Voice of the Borders describes blatant cases of GBH as "a little argy-bargy", so Magee termed a tremendous punch-up as "a part of the scenario we could well do without". And Magee had a way of describing foul play that was worthy of Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde himself: "I think we can say that tackle was late: if it was the last bus at night, you'd be walking home."

Gaelic football - initiates please skip the next bit - is a hurly-burly amalgamation of soccer, rugby and basketball, played at breakneck pace with maximum commitment.

Both Mayo and Meath are slumbering giants of the game, historic under- achievers with a great deal to prove. In the dim and distant past, one of the teams playing last week invented one of the sport's fundamental manoeuvres: at Croke Park, a dribble of Mayo is not an apologetic garnish on a hamburger, but a good way of getting the ball from one end of the pitch to the other.

But you would be ill-advised to make any cracks about salad dressing in the vicinity of Liam McHale, Mayo's mountainous midfielder: a leitmotif of the match was Meath men rebounding from his flanks like squash balls from a wall.

McHale and his men built up a healthy five-point lead as their fans bayed for blood, but if recovery was beyond belief it was not beyond wee Meath, who steadily pecked away at the deficit until with moments left Mayo led by a solitary point. Then up popped Colm Coyne, the Meath right-half back, whose speculative shot bounced in front of the Mayo goal and staggered over the bar to tie the game. Bad news for Mayo, good news for established fans and converts: a replay on 29 September. The unconverted should stay up late tomorrow night for Channel 4's repeat of last week's game.

It was exhilarating stuff, and the way the teams benefited from a robust physical approach and actually scored points by shooting over the bar revealed at last the real reason behind Wimbledon FC's much-mooted move to Dublin.

Magee seemed to be in danger of spontaneous combustion as the match reached its climax, but he found the time to address viewers abroad. "Looking at this around the world," he said, "remember these are amateurs, playing for the love of the game: no padding, no face masks, no bloated salaries."

What better cue to check out goings-on among the pad, mask and bloated- wallet brigade. No, not Paul Gascoigne on They Think It's All Over - he failed to show, and sent his wobbly friend instead, who hardly uttered a peep - but the loaded leviathans of the United States National Football League.

The Big Match (Channel 4) commenced with a welcome visit to Green Bay, where dedicated fans of the Packers demonstrate their loyalty by walking around with plastic replicas of large wedges of cheese strapped to their heads. One would love to be able to supply a bizarre and imaginative reason for this practice, but this is America, land of the bland, and they make an awful lot of cheese in Green Bay.

The main match of the evening pitched the Indianapolis Colts against the Dallas Cowboys. Inevitably Deion Sanders, the Cowboys' star who seems to want every job on the field, was involved in the early action, high- stepping in for a touchdown. Irritated - like most neutral viewers - by his arrogance, the Colts triple-teamed him, and in the aftermath of the ensuing crunch Sanders' helmet fell off and rolled away. Amazement that it did not still contain his head gave way to disbelief that it could have fallen off anything so big in the first place.

Which brings us neatly to Geoffrey Boycott, who brought his limitless expertise to Tomorrow's World (BBC1). Boycs was interviewed on a visit to the Sports Turf Research Institute in Bingley, where boffins are labouring after a perfect pitch.

What is the point? "People talk about the make-up of a team, and what they are going to do, but the pitch is the most important factor in a cricket match," Geoffrey pronounced. He was then shown various Heath-Robinsonesque contrap- tions used in the Institute's research. What were his conclusions? Could a consistent pitch save English cricket? "I don't think it matters that much how good the pitch is or how bad, I don't think our Test team is that good." Any pitch that turns as sharply as Boycott's opinions deserves to be dug up.

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