Here’s a quick story that it’s apt to give another spin to. The impact that Ireland’s presence at Italia ’90, in particular, had on the nation is possibly best quantified by a realisation that it generated an interest in sport among people for whom it wouldn’t normally register. Even farmers in the midst of what represents the busiest period of the year in that sector.
So much so that immense clarity surrounds the memory of certain farmers who, although always maintaining some degree of an interest in sport, wouldn’t be known for letting it get in the way of the workload, yet, the day of the penalties in Genoa, haymaking was brought to a halt in order to take in the action.
Everybody probably remembers where they were that day. Aside from the obvious euphoria and bedlam which ensued following David O’Leary’s successful conversion of the decisive kick, the thing that reverberates greatest in the mind from that day was the inclination that it was the first occasion on which notice was taken of Bill O’Herlihy, John Giles and Eamon Dunphy.
O’Herlihy – the Cork broadcasting colossus – and the two former Irish players (of polarised notoriety) have been, for the viewing public, the interpretive platform through which some of this country’s most significant sporting moments – good and bad – were ingested.
Think about it – the spot kicks in Genoa, Ray Houghton’s goal and John Aldridge and Jack Charlton going potty at officialdom in America, the Lansdowne Road riots, Saipan and the hand of Henry. That’s only the soccer ones – and at that probably merely a fraction of same.
To corral comment on Bill’s career into the above would be both unfair and well short of the full story. There’s a lot more to ten World Cups and ten incarnations of the Olympic Games over a half century than that. Perhaps, however, the esteem in which he is rightly held and the value of his contribution best encapsulated by the broad spectrum of personalities, sporting and otherwise, who contributed to the moving tribute at the end of his final broadcast.
Comprising but not limited to Brian Cody, Katie Taylor, Robbie Keane, Jimmy Barry Murphy, Colm Cooper, Jerry Kiernan and, of course, the Apres Match lads, live! Not to mention opportunistic politicians and fellow media folk. Maybe it was just a pity they didn’t do a voxpop of some of the public with some of their fondest memories of the iconic anchor.
Even though it’s far from the full picture, what’s likely to resonate greatest is of him as part of a triumvirate which, to viewers, was like a gift of grub that became a staple diet. Granted, others, like the exceedingly boring Liam Brady, the more affable Brian Kerr and a few high profile foreigners eventually interloped, but Bill, Giles and Dunphy were always the main attraction.
Obviously, questions now arise. Who takes over the hotseat? Mention of replacing O’Herlihy would just be disingenuous. Will the veteran pundits be kept on? Will they want to stay on? In attempting to answer the first question, RTE need to be careful. Darragh Maloney has already been touted as the most likely candidate to take on one of the most onerous jobs in sports broadcasting and will most likely end up in situ. However, his loss to the commentator’s roster would leave quite the void to fill.
In terms of other sports, the national broadcaster is not as well endowed with frontline talent as exists on the GAA front. Should anything happen to the national institutions that are Michael Lyster and Des Cahill, it’s likely that Marty Morrissey (perish the thought) or any one of Evanne Ni Chuilinn, Jacqui Hurley or Joanne Cantwell could ably steer the ship.
Maloney would also fit that bill, but greater need lies elsewhere. Strife will also be widespread if and when Tom McGuirk decides to sidestep the rugby scrum. Until that time, recruiting a decent commentator probably tops the shopping list. And, whoever that ends up being, they – like whoever takes from Bill – faces a hard act to follow.
That said, either as game caller or debate chairman, Darragh is and would be streets ahead of the monotonous meanderings of either Peter Collins or Stephen Alkin. His coronation presumably awaits. For now, though, we’ll leave it there folks!