Bill O'Herlihy: The man of the match who will never be matched
Football fans all over the country will mourn the passing of BIll O'Herlihy
GARY Lineker, well-liked as he is as Match of the Day host, could never do it. Adrian Chiles could never do it, nor could his recent replacement as ITV football anchor, Mark Pougatch. In earlier television times, Des Lynam, Jimmy Hill or Brian Moore could never have done it either. None of them could have worked their way into the affections of the football-loving public in Britain the way the late Bill O’Herlihy did in this country.
He was unique; a one-off, in the same way his long working relationship – hell, it was more like a bromance — with John Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady, the Three Amigos as Bill called them in their final, moving broadcast together at the end of last year’s World Cup final, was a never-to-be-replicated joy for those of us who love football.
One of the most pleasurable, yet perversely, also one of the saddest, working experiences I had in recent times was writing a tribute to Bill O’Herlihy in this column last year. It appeared on Saturday, July 5, a week before the World Cup final, which would also be Bill’s last ever appearances as RTE’s football anchor.
It was nice to be able to make a small contribution, to send a small thank you, amid a welter of other heartfelt tributes, to a man who gave more enjoyment to Irish football fans than he probably realised at the time... although I hope it was crystal clear to him in the days that followed just how much we loved watching him — and yeah, ‘love’ is the only word that will do.
The sadness came from knowing Bill wouldn’t be back on our screens after football’s summer recess. Premiership Soccer Saturday/Sunday had been cancelled the previous year anyway (still one of the most short-sighted and lame-brained decisions RTE ever took), but now we’d also have to do without Bill for Euro qualifiers and Champions League games, not to mention the Olympics and international track and field events.
Perhaps the best thing to do (and please indulge this small bit of laziness on the day that’s in it) is to repeat a little of what I wrote last July about what it was that made Bill so special and put his interaction with the pundits light years ahead of football coverage on the British channels:
“His brilliance lies in the way he asks Giles, Dunphy, Brady et al the kind of questions the football fan watching at home would want answered.
“Sometimes the questions are incisive, other times they’re deliberately naive. At all times, though, Bill is playing devil’s advocate, cleverly steering, prodding and even provoking the panel as a way of teasing out their thoughts.
“At this stage the RTE football panel is a well-oiled machine and Bill is the one exerting masterly control over the levers and switches that make it run smoothly.
“(His) role as ringmaster — and, on those occasions when the studio arguments get overheated, firefighter — should never be underestimated.”
There’s no need to revise a word of that, because nothing has changed in the intervening time. Nobody has come along to replace him. Not that anyone would dare try.
Actually, that’s not quite true; of course something has changed. The level of sadness I felt at Bill’s departure last year is infinitely multiplied while I’m writing this, no more than an hour-and-a-half after the news that he died suddenly at the age of 76, having attended the IFTA awards only the previous night and reportedly been in fine fettle.
The world of televised football hasn’t been the same without him. The wider world won’t be the same either without him in it to enjoy what should have been a longer life.