Friday 26 December 2014

Whether a prophet or pundit, Dunphy has perfected the art of winning with own goals

Published 19/06/2014 | 02:30

Just when you think he's out of the game, he drags himself back in again. It wouldn't be a World Cup on RTE without some Eamon Dunphy-inspired madness and, right on cue, he delivered the 'F bomb' on Tuesday night, straight into hundreds of thousands of people's homes. So were the couch potatoes and the innocent childer of Erin shocked? Appalled? Furious? Offended?

I doubt it. But nobody can doubt that they're talking about him again and there's something strangely reassuring about the fact that, once more, we're all discussing the one Irishman who always seems to be the real winner of any World Cup he appears at.

To the casual observer, his place in the pantheon of things Paddy Needs During A World Cup goes back to Italia '90 and the myth that he hurled his pen away as he grumbled about how he was ashamed to be Irish. He was indeed furious at the caveman football we were being subjected to, but he didn't throw his pen away and he wasn't guilty of treason. Of course, by the time the dust settled, that offending pen was as embedded in our consciousness as Marianne Faithful's Mars bar. Both myths, but myths which people wanted to believe.

To the more seasoned Dunphy observer, however, his habits were already gaining attention four years earlier. That came in the form of a spectacular strop when he was displeased by a Dermot Morgan sketch which failed to treat him with sufficient reverence. In fact, he went into such a big huff that he was even heard to mutter darkly about never appearing on RTE again. Not for the first time, of course, that was one of his predictions which failed to materialise.

Such is the dysfunctional but undoubtedly co-dependent relationship he enjoys with the national broadcaster, it was once impossible to imagine an entire World Cup going by without him providing at least one water cooler moment. For many viewers, however, that time has passed.

Fifteen years ago, Dunphy was 10 years ahead of his time and while RTE's output is infinitely better than that offered up by the BBC and ITV, there have been undeniable signs that this is one particular bandwagon that is slowly, if amusingly, shuddering to a halt.

Perhaps most pertinently, the average viewer doesn't really know what happened to the old Eamo, the mouth with the pout who could sulk for Ireland and who had a God-given gift to shoot from the lip and divide the nation. He was the Ronaldo of punditry – preening, swaggering and secure in the knowledge that he was simply better than anyone else, unless 'anyone else' was John Giles – but even then only on the condition that his old mate had been nice to him before they went on air.

Everyone else was a chancer, a phony and a blackguard and part of 'Official Ireland' who couldn't be trusted. And then he started to go weird.

Frankly, Eamo, as much as the country loves you, we don't want to see you crying on the telly and we really don't want to see you blubber in front of Gay Byrne. God knows, Gaybo is getting on a bit and the last thing he, or the viewers, want to see is some strange, soft, Dunphy-lite with lips akimbo as he starts to bawl again. Is this the kind of cissy boy behaviour that made him, for a time, the single most feared commentator in this country?

If people want to hear about his rotten childhood they can buy his book but when they see him on telly they want to see fireworks, not waterworks. As the Statler and Waldorf of Irish sports broadcasting head into the second week of what has been, two damp squibs aside, a bloody marvellous tournament, we've been watching a not particularly subtle changing of the guard.

John Giles remains the Mount Rushmore of Montrose, impervious to the whims and vagaries of modern football but still capable of producing common sense nuggets such as: "I've never seen space score a goal" when he dismisses zonal marking. Bill O'Herlihy is hanging up his clipboard and while we will miss him, he has obviously decided that, for once, he'd like to be able to watch a match without the panel telling him he's an eejit.

And then there was one.

From controlling the studio with the same arrogant flamboyance that sees Pirlo glide effortlessly through a match, Dunphy is savvy enough to know that there are younger, hungrier hatchet men coming up and they can spot any sign of weakness in the old timer.

Richie Sadlier is hardly a man prone to holding the coats and his apparent scorn for the veteran's views are becoming more pronounced by the day, while even Didi Hamman's permanently arched eyebrow seems to flutter a little more than normal when he goes off on one of his mazy solo runs, baffling pundits, punters and logic with joyful abandon.

His obsession with John Terry on Saturday night was a perfect example. First he said Terry's absence from the squad was down to "the age on his passport". Then he said it was because of a row with the FA. At no point did he seem aware that the WAG-fiddling Terry is loathed by many within the squad and, if any defender should have been in Manaus, it should have been the equally delightful Ashley Cole.

The sight of Dunphy swearing has, of course, returned him to his rightful place – centre stage.

And while there is no doubt that the whole episode was a genuine mistake – the expression on his face is elegant testament to that – can you imagine mere experts like Sadlier or Hamann saying the 'f words' not once but twice?

No, of course you can't.

Because Eamo still has it, baby.

Now if only we knew what the hell 'it' was.

Ian O'Doherty

Irish Independent

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