'Eamon Dunphy, like even the most charming children, has grown tiresome'
The old days when the country hung on the football pundit's every word are long gone
Remember Democracy Now? The group was missing in action during the recent election campaign, but for a short time, back in 2011, the Irish media was very excited about the new political club, possibly because so many of its own were in the ranks.
There was Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times, for example. So dismayed was he by the Fianna Fail-led government that he pledged to stand for election to bring about radical change, even declaring that he felt "morally obliged to do so".
In the end, he didn't, citing insufficient time - the same excuse used by another rumoured candidate-to-be in 2011, author and football pundit Eamon Dunphy. Last week, Dunphy was back, appearing on Claire Byrne Live to offer his reaction to an election which saw Fianna Fail dramatically come within spitting distance of Fine Gael. Perhaps his presence was symbolic. One force which swaggeringly dominated Irish life in the 1990s and the last decade had returned, so why not another?
What was more surprising was Dunphy's revelation that he too had voted FF this time. In other words, from champing at the bit to get FF out, he was now eager to vote them back in.
If Dunphy's story was meant by RTE to illustrate the drift back to FF by former supporters who deserted them in 2011, he was an odd choice; Dunphy, who turned 70 last year, admitted that he'd never voted for the party before, meaning he's passed up 14 previous opportunities since 1965, the first election at which he was old enough to vote, to support FF. This makes him representative of quite a different demographic, namely men who first opt to vote FF in their eighth decade, a club whose membership must, one suspects, be rather select.
According to Dunphy, his was an "intelligent vote" which was meant to "send a signal", adding that "a FF surge such as we've seen" was the only thing capable of stopping "this terrible, arrogant government".
There's a certain logic to his position. He wanted to give the FG/Labour G overnment a bloody nose, so he picked the biggest bruisers in the playground most likely to deliver the hardest blow, just as, in his other job as a football pundit, he has (apparently) criticised Arsenal for being too soft. "You can't win anything unless you have people with hard mentalities," as he put it.
In politics, as in football, maybe he's looking for "big time players for the big game to put their foot in".
That's what you do in a binary electoral system, such as the United States or the UK, where the only way to stop one fellow is by voting for the other one.
The only problem is that Ireland isn't a binary system any more, the picture is much more nuanced, and it is still possible to send messages and to make change by voting for smaller parties who can then use their influence in a constructive way.
Dunphy himself has been making that same case for months now as a prominent cheerleader for Shane Ross's Independent Alliance (IA).
He addressed a conference held by the IA in Athlone last June. He attended the group's launch. He made a video for YouTube, and helped raise campaign funds, in support of Sunday Independent columnist Carol Hunt, who was running for the IA in Dublin Dun Laoghaire, and visited Sligo to support local IA candidate Marie Casserly.
Speaking to Ocean FM at the time, he explained: "One thing I feel is absolutely vital for Ireland now is that we don't vote for the party machines who are answerable to nobody. If you vote for FF, FG, the Labour Party or Sinn Fein, they will do what the party whip tells them to do . . . and I think that's a huge problem".
Weeks later he was doing just what he'd been warning others not to do, ignoring his own words: "I think there's one trick we are missing, and I've been as guilty as everyone else, expecting change to come from the people who've given us 100 years of misery . . . if you keep doing the same things and getting bad outcomes, try something different." Now, he does have one get-out clause. There was no IA candidate standing in Dublin Bay South, so he couldn't have voted for the group, even if that was his intention.
Glenna Lynch was standing for the Social Democrats, however, and it is hard to see anything in Lynch's platform which would have alienated a supporter of the IA.
Especially when a vote for her would have saved a man who loudly warned against party machines from rowing in behind the most formidable one in the history of the State.
Even if he did have a soft spot for his local FF candidate, the estimable Jim O'Callaghan, whose stance on social issues such as abortion is much more liberal than his party nationally, that's quite some leap. The woman in the audience from the Anti Austerity Alliance/People Before Profit wasn't the only one who was surprised.
Last Monday, Dunphy seemed to sense that his revelation wasn't going down well, and kept returning to the subject to clarify his position, but it only made matters more confusing still, not least when he explained to the AAA-PBP woman that she shouldn't be hostile to his actions because, as a result, "maybe Aodhan O Riordain won't get in in my constituency and that's one less for the Labour Party and it's one more for you".
Everyone was much too polite - or, by this stage, possibly embarrassed - to point out that O Riordain wasn't standing in Dunphy's constituency. He actually stood in Dublin Bay North.
There was a look on Dunphy's face, as he ignored the old adage about not digging when you're in a hole, which hinted at a sudden inner revelation. It was as if he was realising for the first time that he was no longer relevant; that a country in which "what has he said this time?" used to be a talking point in every pub in the land had moved on. Ireland was over Dunphy, and he looked baffled as to how this came about and why he hadn't noticed it happening.
"I've been naive almost all my life," Dunphy once admitted. "I don't regret that innocence." He's still childlike in some ways, and it has an appeal; but even the most charming children eventually grow tiresome.