Sunday 4 December 2016

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

TV presenter and PR Guru Bill O'Herlihy
TV presenter and PR Guru Bill O'Herlihy
The O’ Herlihy family, from left, Sally O’Herlihy, Isla Conlon, Hilary O’ Herlihy, Bill O’ Herlihy, Jack Conlon (3) & Jill O’ Herlihy during the launch of the broadcaster’s autobiography ‘We’ll Leave It There So’ in 2012
Bill O’Herlihy and Irene Fenton present ‘Sports Stadium’ in 1974
Bill O’Herlihy in 1974
Michael O’Hehir and Bill O’Herlihy present coverage of the Munich Olympics in 1972
Below: Bill on set with his grandchildren during RTE’s World Cup coverage last year
Bill during the Munich '72 Olympics coverage
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Bill O’Herlihy at the launch of the broadcaster’s autobiography in 2012
US bombshell Jayne Mansfield takes part in a press conference in Tralee with Bill O’Herlihy during her controversial visit to Kerry in 1967
Bill O'Herlihy in a promo shot for ‘7Days'
Bill O’Herlihy, John Giles and Eamon Dunphy at the launch of RTE’s 2014 World Cup coverage
Bill O’Herlihy, with guests including Eamon Dunphy, on RTE during the 1978 World Cup in Argentina
Bill O’Herlihy and his infamous hat during Italia 90
Bill O'Herlihy and his wife Hilary
Bill O’Herlihy celebrates his IFTA award in 2007
Bill O’Herlihy and Liam Brady

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.

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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 O’ Herlihy family, from left, Sally O’Herlihy, Isla Conlon, Hilary O’ Herlihy, Bill O’ Herlihy, Jack Conlon (3) & Jill O’ Herlihy during the launch of the broadcaster’s autobiography ‘We’ll Leave It There So’ in 2012
The O’ Herlihy family, from left, Sally O’Herlihy, Isla Conlon, Hilary O’ Herlihy, Bill O’ Herlihy, Jack Conlon (3) & Jill O’ Herlihy during the launch of the broadcaster’s autobiography ‘We’ll Leave It There So’ in 2012

The announcement provoked an outpouring of emotional tributes from colleagues and fans who were keen to praise this "giant and gentleman of Irish broadcasting".

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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.

Bill O’Herlihy and Irene Fenton present ‘Sports Stadium’ in 1974
Bill O’Herlihy and Irene Fenton present ‘Sports Stadium’ in 1974

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"He never hid his emotions on those big occasions," RTE Director General Noel Curran said.

Bill O’Herlihy in 1974
Bill O’Herlihy in 1974

"From disappointment to utter joy, and for this he was greatly loved...His contribution to broadcasting was utterly unique."

Rapport

President Michael D Higgins described O'Herlihy's rapport with sports fans as "legendary".

Below: Bill on set with his grandchildren during RTE’s World Cup coverage last year
Below: Bill on set with his grandchildren during RTE’s World Cup coverage last year

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"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."

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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.

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"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.

Unflappable, affable, and highly inquisitive, all was 'okey-dokey' in O'Herlihy's world  

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."

Irish Independent

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