Bill O'Herlihy catching up with friends at IFTAs hours before sudden passing
Bill O'Herlihy was at centre of country's sporting life for close to five decades
Published 26/05/2015 | 02:30
Just hours before his death, broadcaster Bill O'Herlihy or 'Billo' sauntered up the red carpet at the annual Irish Film and Television Academy Awards.
The Cork native (76) seemed his usual genial self as he chit-chatted with nominees and photographers about his recent trip to the Cannes Film Festival.
The image of him jostling and joking about on the steps of the Mansion House made the news of his death all the more jarring.
O'Herlihy passed away quietly from a heart attack on Monday morning.
The announcement provoked an outpouring of emotional tributes from colleagues and fans who were keen to praise this "giant and gentleman of Irish broadcasting".
For close to five decades, O'Herlihy had been at the centre of the country's seminal sporting events; sharing moments of triumph, jubilation and devastation.
As a result, he had forged a special place in our national psyche.
"He never hid his emotions on those big occasions," RTE Director General Noel Curran said.
"From disappointment to utter joy, and for this he was greatly loved...His contribution to broadcasting was utterly unique."
President Michael D Higgins described O'Herlihy's rapport with sports fans as "legendary".
"It was his unique capacity for humour which he used to connect with diverse audiences, which made him so special," Higgins said.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny praised his professionalism adding: "He was the quintessential decent, kind and generous Irish man...A national treasure"
O'Herlihy began his journalism career in the bustling newsroom of the Cork Examiner. It was a training that never left him.
"I remember his willingness to take a clear political stand in the early 1980s, while others...kept their opinions to themselves," former Taoiseach, John Bruton said.
"It was brave, risky, and patriotic and it showed the true character of the man."
Although O'Herlihy spent the majority of his career working in RTE's sports department, he remained a skilled debater. He excelled at acting as a foil, often feigning naivety in order to provoke heated discussion - an expertise which requires both self confidence and intelligence.
As Liam Brady put it: "He could cause a row in an empty room. He was always looking for an angle that would rile one of us or all three of us.
"He loved nothing more than getting any argument going."
Coupled with this he possessed a kindness and generosity of spirit.
"Bill had the heartiest of laughs," close friend and Fine Gael's former Director of Organisations Frank Flannery said.
"His laugh was infectious. He was a genuine man and a joy to be around. He had a great sense of humour, and was hugely sympathetic to others.
"Even if Bill was disagreeing with you, he did so with kindness and compassion."
During his 48 years of broadcasting, O'Herlihy presented 10 World Cups for RTÉ.
He retired last year, choosing to focus his energies on his PR company O'Herlihy Communications. But he will most probably be remembered by the nation for his astute presenting skill and endearing catchphrases.
Indeed, Giovanni Trapattoni's former translator Manuela Spinelli remembered the difficulty she had in trying to translate his signature phrase, 'okey dokey'.
"Bill was synonymous with happy occasions and moments of celebration," former colleague Eamon Dunphy told the Irish Independent.
"He was there for the highs and the lows. He'd been on the emotional journey with us all. He had a keen journalistic brain and could challenge us robustly. We've lost something as a country."