Monday 18 December 2017

Declan Lynch Television Review: RTE panel still the 
wonder of the world

Declan Lynch
Declan Lynch
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I was just remarking to myself that Eamon Dunphy was having a fine World Cup, when suddenly... it got even better.

Suddenly, along with all the regular benefits of Dunphy in a rich vein of form, we were given one of the simplest and yet one of the most enduring of pleasures which television can provide, that of a performer cursing when he thinks that the viewers can’t see him.

In a world of endless profanity it seems ludicrous that we should find a bit of unintentional swearing in any way strange, let alone newsworthy. And yet the ancient decorum of the TV studio still requires a Dunphy to look sincerely into the camera as he issues his apology to any viewers who were offended, while the “offended” viewers are still laughing at the good of it all.

The fact that it was Dunphy, and not, say, Kenny Cunningham, probably gave it an extra dimension. It is better if it happens to be the star, and perhaps the stars just have this weird ability to draw these things on themselves, apparently without trying.

But like I said, he’d been having a fine World Cup anyway, and so had John Giles and Liam Brady and Richie Sadlier and Didi Hamann and Tony O’Donoghue who has been doing a kind of a breakfast show in the afternoon, which is usually the best time for it.

In fact I can think of no RTE pundits who have failed in their sacred duty. And yes, Kenny Cunningham has made himself useful too, setting himself up in opposition to Dunphy, chasing and harrying him at every turn, leading us to believe that “they just don’t like each other”.

This works well when you compare it with the creative tension to be found among the pundits on the BBC or ITV, which rarely gets beyond the level you would get at a charity golf outing. Perhaps the studios in which they sit, with their grand views of Rio de Janeiro, are just too beautiful — who could start an argument in this paradise? And then the pundits can be found continuing the debate on the sands of Copacabana, which somehow looks wrong.

Never in our lives had we seen anything on Copacabana which looked wrong, until these men arrived last week with their beach banter. And then we learned that famous beaches are meant only for certain things, and that football punditry somehow is not one of them.


This, according to some, was supposed to be the World Cup in which we would at last stop saying that the RTE panel is superior to all the rest, the tournament in which Giles, Brady and Dunphy would finally lose their aura, challenged as they have been for some time by the kind of younger opponents that we see on TV3 for example, such as.... eh... eh... they know who they are.

Against this, for a start, there was the still-fresh memory of the great Giovanni Trapattoni debate, one of the finest pieces of Irish TV drama of recent times, in which Giles and Dunphy were against Trap, with Brady in the centre defending him. At the core of this marvellous scene was the fact that Brady was obviously wrong, yet he was admirable too, in his loyalty to Trap — in this duality we find the essence of drama, or at least we find something that we probably won’t find in an evening with Gary Lineker.

Dunphy, as we know, is one of the more compelling figures of the age. There is no such thing as a replacement for that. As for Giles, regular readers will know that I believe that we are talking here, not just about a great football man, but one of the great Irishmen of the last century.

Leaving aside his various accomplishments as a player, a manager, and a broadcaster, I don’t think that any other figure in Irish public life has made such an implacable stand against that most ancient of all our enemies, the curse of eejitry.

These are big statements, but then it is a big deal all round when you consider that in almost every other area of television, the British seem to be innately better — yet in this one area, they are forever trotting behind us, just no match for Paddy.

It is a f***ing miracle.

The World Cup (RTE2, BBC1, ITV)

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