SAY IT QUIETLY, but there’s an unmistakable sense of optimism about Ireland’s chances in tonight’s Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon.
Perhaps not that we’ll buck the recent trend and actually win the thing, but at least that Ryan O’Shaughnessy and his much talked about dancers will get us a credible place on the leaderboard.
It’s not just idle talk either, there are some genuine reasons why Ireland should be feeling good ahead of tonight’s show.
One thing we know for sure is that Ireland’s odds of ending 22 years of hurt have been slashed over the past couple of days.
Ireland was available at as much as 200/1 at the beginning of this week and has now come in to third-favourite at 10/1 with Paddy Power*.
For the non-gamblers among you, that means the bookie has Ireland as twenty times more likely to win than was thought only a few days ago.
Other non-Irish bookies have Ireland as a little less likely to win, but most now have Ireland among the top 10 most-likely to win the contest.
But why all this optimism?
Well, the first reason is that Ireland actually qualified for the final when we weren’t expected to. In fact, this was the first time in five years that Ireland made it past the semi-final.
Ireland was announced last of the ten from Tuesday’s semi-final (they were delivered in no particular order), perhaps adding to the sense of excitement and buzz that has been building since then.
Aside from that though, Ireland’s melodic ballad Together is quite apart from the predominantly high-tempo tracks in the 2018 crop of songs.
The fact that it connected with the televoters across Europe perhaps suggests it has something a bit different about it.
That’s the hope anyway of RTÉ’s Eurovision aficionado Paul G. Sheridan. He believes that Ireland’s entry is the best we’ve had in years and in some ways is comparable to last year’s winner.
“You only have to look at Portugal last year. That was just so different from anything that had gone before,” he explains.
Both the forty-odd juries and the public were unanimous in their agreement that it was the best song in the competition and it sailed to victory. This too is different, but at the same time there is a lot of competition.
Sheridan points to some of that competition and singles out the favourites Cyprus as “our biggest threat”.
Other entries he thinks people should watch out for are Lithuania, Norway and perennial Eurovision heavy-hitters Sweden, even though Sheridan thinks the Swedes aren’t as strong as other years.
I was at the Melodifestivalen, their national song contest, in March. Normally they have an exceptional crop of songs, they have 12 in their final but this year none of them stood out. This one the best of the bad bunch.
Of the others, Norway’s performer is looking to make history and be the first in Eurovision history to win twice with a song he wrote himself.
This time, Alexander Rybak will be singing the rather confident sounding That’s How You Write a Song.
Ireland’s Johnny Logan of course won the contest twice as a singer and once as a composer, but didn’t write one of the songs he won with.Source: Eurovision Song Contest/YouTube
In case you hadn’t heard, Ireland’s entry has caused a little bit of a stir and it’s part of the reason why people are feeling confident about our chances.
In response, the European Broadcasting Union ended its contract with the broadcaster and said that Mango TV’s decision was not in line with the “values of universality and inclusivity” of the Eurovision.
There were also suggestions that Russia would refuse to show Ireland’s entry but this did not happen.
Regardless, it seems to have had the desired effect according to Adrian Kavanagh, Maynooth University geography lecturer and Eurovision voting expert.
“The inclusion of the dancers seems to have really worked. There was a moment one minute into the song when they came in, you could hear the reaction.”
Some of the bloggers were saying we should have had the dancers from the start but the fact that they came in during the song was good. You could hear a big cheer when they came in to it.
As most seasoned Eurovision watchers will know though, winning the contest is not just about how good your song is.
It’s also very much about where your entry comes in the 26-song running order and how your country performs in the often controversial televoting process.
And it’s on this first factor that Ireland should be particularly pleased.
The draw on Thursday saw Ireland drawn to sing third from last, the best slot be in according to Kavanagh, who spoke to TheJournal.ie before the draw was made.
“What happens is you usually pay attention to the first song and then maybe drift away. The worst position to get is number two, that is the worst. If you can get number two you can forget about it,” he says.
If you get a slot later in the running order you’re going to stand out more. The best position to get in the final is third from last. Mainly because the final is so long by the time you’re at song 26. But at some stage around song 23 or 24 people make their minds up.
One potential problem could be the position that Ireland’s “biggest rival” occupies.
The Cyprus entry comes right after Ireland in the running order and that has cemented its place as the favourite to win the competition.
The performer Eleni Foureira is an established singer in her native Greece and the up-tempo Fuego has a distinct ‘sound-of-the-summer’ feel to it.
Kavanagh says he thinks the public voters will love it and adds: “If the jury goes with Cyprus, I think it’s all done and dusted”.
‘Eastern bloc votes ‘
But what of those public voters?
Ireland hasn’t won since televoting was introduced and each year we hear grumbles about how neighbours voting for each other means we never will again.
So proud to be stepping out on stage with this bunch to represent my country tonight! 🇮🇪 We can’t vote from Ireland but if you know anyone abroad, in the UK especially, send them a message to download the app and give us some votes. SONG 18! Can’t wait to step out onto that stage!! Come on Ireland!!! #coybig #allaboard #eurovision2018
While Kavanagh agrees that this has been an issue, he feels that it may be becoming less of a factor.
“The main thing is the fact that countries like Azerbaijan and Greece didn’t make it in on Tuesday. So I think the voting blocs are becoming less significant as a factor. Countries are becoming less predictable.”
“In some ways it could be related to the fact that maybe the voting blocs are less strong because people in Armenia now for instance are more likely to throw votes Ireland’s way.”
Partly it’s because these countries are in Eurovision now 20 years and it’s maybe a socialisation process, that they’re now used to Ireland. Like the way people in Ireland twenty years ago might have gone: ‘Montenegro? Azerbaijan? I’ve never heard of these countries’.
“You can be pretty damn sure that people in Armenia or Azerbaijan had never heard about Ireland either.”
So after all that, what are our chances?
“Anywhere on the left-hand side of the scoreboard will be a great result. Anywhere in the top 15, because it’s a really competitive Eurovision. This is a the hardest contest to call that I’ve ever seen,” Kavanagh says.
For his part, RTÉ’s Sheridan is being a little more optimistic:
Because of the televoting structure I personally don’t see us in the top three. I see us doing very well, and I hope to God we do because it’s the best song we’ve had in a long time. But I’ll be a pleasantly surprise if we finish in the top three. If we can get fourth or fifth place I think that’ll be spectacular.
“If we could win it that would be even better. I know people are saying we can’t afford to do it. It’s more of a case of we can’t afford not to do it.”
Originally published 12.05am