Wednesday 28 September 2016

Giles: the ruthlessly pragmatic football analyst who has no time for spoofers

Published 11/07/2016 | 02:30

National icon John Giles on RTÉ for the final time last night. Photo: RTE
National icon John Giles on RTÉ for the final time last night. Photo: RTE

In the end, he deserved better. But don't they all? While the romantics among us may have hoped that John Giles would end his 30-year association with RTÉ as senior football analyst with a game that would befit his years of punditry, it's unlikely such a thought ever entered the man's mind.

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If it did, he would surely have dismissed it as foolish.

As ruthlessly pragmatic an analyst as he was a player, the former midfield maestro turned studio lynch pin has always embodied the sort of values which scoff at such frippery, which is the reason he has undoubtedly been one of the most important voices in Irish football.

One of the more ill-informed criticisms he had to face in recent years was about the apparent negativity of the panel when it came to reviewing Irish performances.

But those jabs tended to miss the crux of the points he was invariably trying to make - he loves football and gets upset when it's not played correctly. The joy of watching Giles always lay in the fact that while he would frequently remind the viewer that football was, at its heart a simple game, he would then explain why so few players seemed able to complete the basics. One of the hallmarks of his time on the panel was his obvious contempt for the shapers and spoofers in the world of football - both those that play it and those who talk about it.

Where Dunphy was the fire, Giles was the ice.

Eamon Dunphy and John Giles at Italia 90. Photo: RTE
Eamon Dunphy and John Giles at Italia 90. Photo: RTE

Where his partner in crime had no problem throwing metaphorical bombs with gay abandon, the 75-year-old brought an occasionally curt sensibility to matters which brought to mind an older sibling frequently exasperated by the antics of his excitable kid brother.

Fellow panellist Liam Brady summed up the respect he enjoys in the professional game in his tribute: "With John, it's never been anything other than easy to follow, crystal clear and almost always correct. He's the best in the business."

We have seriously undervalued Giles in this country. More pertinently, RTÉ has seriously undervalued him. The first public sign of dressing room rancour came when he was dropped from the panel for the crucial game against Scotland last September. Giles shared our bafflement, but much worse was the sense that he was left hurt and humiliated by the decision. The die was cast.

In the realm of the bad calls made in Montrose, allowing their best analyst to walk away is classic example of brain drain - can they honestly afford to lose a lifetime of footballing knowledge and erudition?

His ability to explain football in a clear and concise way are unparalleled. One intervention sticks in the mind - in the midst of a conversation about diamond formations, Christmas trees and false 9s, he referred to the modern curse of zonal marking, where players occupy space. "I've never seen space score a goal, Bill," he said to the late O'Herlihy and that was the end of that discussion. Who can argue with such implacable logic?

In the end, the undoubtedly heartfelt tributes, led by President Michael D Higgins, and the proverbial gold watch were the least the national broadcaster could do for a national icon.

There is talk of him teaming up with former colleague Graham Souness over at TV3. If that comes to pass, then RTÉ will surely have scored a quite spectacular own goal.

Irish Independent

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