independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Trap's the new Charlton for oh-so grumpy Dunphy

Say what you will about Eamon Dunphy, but he can never be accused of capturing the mood of the nation.

After battling valiantly to force a draw against world champions Italy in their own backyard -- and nearly snatching all three points at the death -- there was a sense of jubilation and pride among the green-clad hordes at Bari's San Nicola stadium which surely matched that of the million-odd viewers back home.

But, true to form, once the action had moved on to the RTE studio, Eamon Dunphy was far from happy. In fact, Gary Cooke -- the actor who parodies Dunphy in Apres Match -- may have to start looking for new work: Eamon is doing an even better job caricaturing himself.

Referring to Giovanni Trapattoni as a sufferer of "negative football syndrome" and a "drunken gambler", Dunphy railed against Ireland's veteran manager in the gleefully belligerent manner he used to reserve for Jack Charlton.

"The bitter little man," as Charlton had once called him was living up to that description as he fought any impulse to find a single positive out of a draw that many in the punditry game had thought beyond us.

When asked about Trapattoni's game plan after we went down to an early goal, Dunphy could only sneer. "He got away with murder. It's a victory for the spirit of the Irish players."

Yet, just a year ago when Trapattoni got the job, Dunphy was telling anyone who would listen that it was the greatest coup in the history of Irish football. Citing the Italian's impressive CV, which includes seven league titles in Italy, three in other countries, and the European Cup, Dunphy thought Ireland could get to the Promised Land under his stewardship.

Now, despite being unbeaten in six qualifiers and sitting just two points behind Italy at the top, Dunphy was busy dismantling his unbridled enthusiasm of 12 months ago: "This guy is not a genius," he blurted out, while treating his audience to an inarticulate rant about Trapattoni's negative tactics.

Giovanni Trapattoni amassed the sort of honours to rival Alex Ferguson through a long-held belief in playing safe, defensive football. In his gushing tribute last year, Dunphy seemed happy to ignore the wily Italian's preferred style. Now that we are well into the campaign to reach South Africa, with Trapattoni's trademark tactics very much to the fore, Dunphy seems to have been taken completely by surprise. Maybe, just maybe, he didn't do his homework on the Italian when he succeeded Steve Staunton.

Seasoned students of Eamon Dunphy are unlikely to be surprised by his unfocused and seemingly ill-informed ravings. And they were on full show on Wednesday night. Instead of focusing on Ireland's achievements in an intimidating atmosphere and against several players with World Cup medals in their lockers, he found greater sustenance in talking about the "worst Italian side I've ever seen".

His fondness for comments that were as ridiculous as they were quotable continued unabated as he sought to drown out panellists John Giles and Ronnie Whelan and the increasingly hapless presenter Bill O'Herlihy. "I told you before the match that the Italians are capable of self-destructing at home and losing to Outer Mongolia," he guffawed, clearly relishing his ability with a one-liner, while being seemingly oblivious to the fact that Italy haven't lost a World Cup qualifier at home for 10 years.

Later, when dismissing the effectiveness of our inexperienced midfield, he suggested that he, Whelan, Giles -- and perhaps O'Herlihy -- could do a better job "even at our age." Incisive analysis? You've got to be kidding.

And that's the thing that sticks in the craw -- RTE likes to think it has the best football pundits in the business. But it patently doesn't. If Dunphy was his usual soundbite-happy, analysis-shy self, his colleagues were just as annoying.

John Giles has been giving Dunphy a run in the crotchety stakes of late. He looked so glum the other night that one might have been forgiven for thinking that Ireland had been hammered.

He's also got Dunphy's condescending sneer down pat: at one point, when Ronnie Whelan was suggesting that playing against 10 men wasn't as easy as it sounds, Giles laughed mirthlessly, before ruthlessly taking his colleague down a peg or three. Really, it was like eavesdropping on a clutch of bitter old codgers on bar stools at closing time.

While Ronnie Whelan hasn't met a single football cliché he hasn't fallen head over heels in love with, at least he was enthused about our exploits in Bari. He could sense that the performance had been imbued with passion and drive. His colleagues, by contrast, seemed to have stuck to the scripts written after the horror show against Bulgaria a few days previously.

Much of the blame for all of this must land on the lap of the veteran host, Bill O'Herlihy, who allowed proceedings to lapse into a turgid, stroppy mess.

But instead of chairing the discussion like the seasoned pro he should be after so many years at the helm, he seemed cowed by the forceful personalities around him. At one point he was even forced to apologise for not being an "expert", at another his speech was littered with that Apres Matchism, "okey-dokey''.

Of course, Trapattoni should be subject to the sort of scrutiny that comes with the job description and a €2m-a-year salary, but watching the well-paid gloom-merchants of Montrose was enough to make even the greatest defender of the national broadcaster wish Sky had been awarded the game. At least they would have been happy for us.

jmeagher@independent.ie

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