Review: Fiction: Dunphy: A Football Life by Jared Browne
New Island, €16.99, pbk, 300 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350
The timing of this unauthorised biography of Eamon Dunphy seems perfect. However, the veteran commentator himself may feel that the book is badly offside, given that he's currently working on his memoir.
But Dunphy has nothing to fear. It may be unauthorised, but there are no cheap shots in this book which instead is a fair, even admiring assessment of his punditry career over the years. It's a very different book from anything Dunphy may write. As for the timing, it neatly sets the scene for Dunphy's own book which is due out in the autumn.
The author is a solicitor (probably useful when quoting Dunphy) but before that he was a talented young footballer who had trials at Man United and Liverpool and played for Ireland at under-15 level. He knows his football and as John Giles says on the cover, the book is "well written" and "very well researched".
It's several stepovers beyond the reach of the usual football book, both in its analysis of Dunphy's views and in the quality of the writing. It's thought-provoking and convincing to the point where it will be very difficult for any reader to stick with the lazy cliche of Dunphy as a self-promoting curmudgeon who always ends up contradicting himself.
It's clear that Browne has a very high regard for his subject. "Nobody does frustrating inconsistency and blatant contradiction quite like Eamon Dunphy," he says. "But due to his footballing brain, razor-sharp wit and fearless incisiveness, he is, by a distance, the most important and fascinating football analyst to work in Ireland or Britain over the last three decades."
The book discusses Dunphy's provocative stances on the Jack Charlton years, Mick McCarthy, Saipan and its aftermath, Roy Keane and Trapattoni, among other things.
Browne examines the evidence on each issue in exhaustive detail and almost always comes down on Dunphy's side. He's occasionally critical, but the bottom line is that he believes Dunphy's analysis is usually right and that his insight is grossly undervalued.
Browne is particularly interesting on Charlton, "a large, belligerent, bloody-minded English toerag", as Dunphy called him in 2002. Dunphy's analysis of Charlton's bullying insistence on the longball method is devastating. Despite having really creative players on the team, Charlton "turned them into a pub side" who occasionally got lucky.
Browne agrees, admiring Dunphy for having the courage to say so at the time despite the hysteria of Jacko's Army. He also agrees with Dunphy on the way rational analysis of the Irish team and tactics at the time was jeered at for being unpatriotic.
One example he gives is a piece written by novelist Roddy Doyle for the Observer in November 1993 which Browne says "buries itself in its own stupidity".
Later in the book, Browne examines Dunphy's assessment of Trapattoni and the parallels are striking. Dunphy calls Trap "the poor man's Jack Charlton", fixated on a defensive method that has no place for creative playmakers.
He points out that the real story of that unforgettable night in Saint-Denis was not Henry's handball but how brilliantly Ireland had played when they had nothing to lose and started to pass the ball around and go for it. As Dunphy said at the time, it showed that so much more had been possible if Trap had been more flexible at an earlier stage.
Browne agrees with Dunphy's assertion that Trap prefers ordinary players "unburdened by talent" because he knows they will do exactly as they are told. The defensive Trap method, he points out, sank Italy's chances at Euro 2004 when they had the chance of going on further and is likely to do the same for Ireland. Dunphy thinks we are capable of much more and Browne agrees.
The book is very interesting on McCarthy -- "Ireland's Achilles heel" -- on Alf-Inge Haaland, Andy Reid, Saipan, Keane, turning up at RTÉ the worse for wear after the night before, and much more.
On the O'Herlihy, Giles, Brady, Dunphy TV show, whatever about the graphics, Browne convincingly shows that the analysis offered is far superior to the BBC, where they bend over backwards to be nice to the England team.
The example given contrasts the half time analyses from the BBC and RTÉ of England's final group game against Slovenia at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. (Roy Hodgson: "England's crossing has been absolutely outstanding." John Giles: "Some of the crossing was just awful.")
The same honesty, Browne says, is applied to Ireland and to the Premier League. And Dunphy is the leader as the passionate, sometimes over the top, but always honest broker. John Spain