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Eamon's 'clowns' having the last laugh

HE called Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo a "puffball", a "self-indulgent idiot", and a "petulant brat" given to "poncing around". Niall Quinn was a "creep"; Harry Kewell a "fat clown"; Jose Mourinho was "poisonous"; and Mick McCarthy not only a "boil on the arse of humanity", but "one of the biggest whingers in world football".

Eamon Dunphy doesn't just restrict himself to sporting insults either. When the invectives are flying, everyone is fair game. Bono was a "pompous git"; Niall Crowley of the Equality Authority was called a "f***er" live on air; more recently, David Norris's presidential ambitions were shot down as the delusions of a "playground show off" who was "in love with the sound of his own voice". Pat Kenny, John Hume, Mary Robinson, Dick Spring's Labour Party -- all were on the receiving end more than once.

True to form, on Monday's first edition of RTE's new late-night election show, Eleventh Hour, politicians were contemptuously dismissed en masse with that favourite Dunphyesque epithet: "clowns". He had "no respect" for any of them, he declared.

Yet when Trinity lecturer Elaine Byrne -- sitting between the former Millwall footballer and St Fintan O'Toole, like a rose between thorns -- had a pop at her fellow panellists for making a lot of noise about changing the political system but then crying off at the last moment, Dunphy not only responded by taking the hump, but the rest of the camel as well.

What irked him was Byrne's unexpected, but oh so satisfying, dismissal of Irish journalism's self-styled Woodward and Bernstein as "more middle-aged angry men, who are telling us what the world should look like, but then, they talk the talk and don't walk the walk". Ouch. "She did an Andy Gray on us," the football pundit fumed next day. "What she said was sexist and ageist. In Sky TV, that would be a sackable offence."

Poor pet. Hasn't he heard the old saying about those who live by the sword being prepared to die by it too?

Sure, if a man had said something similar to a couple of doddery old political matriarchs, the National Women's Council would be screaming blue (rinse) murder. But that's not what happened. What happened was that Dunphy got 'Dunphy-ed' live on air. Not just 'Dunphy-ed', in fact, but out-Dunphy-ed. How Eamon has the gall to even let the words "ageist" and "sexist" slip off his forked tongue really is an unfathomable enigma, up there with Fermat's Theorem and the Higgs Boson Particle. This is a man who once went round to the house of a female neighbour, just back from hospital after giving birth to her first child, and repeatedly called her a "f***ing tramp" and a "fat ugly b***h" because the newspaper for which she worked had the audacity to publish a light-hearted article referring to him as a "sinner".

As for ageism, he clearly has a short memory. The radio interview in which Niall Crowley was torn apart came about as a result of a complaint made by the Equality Authority against a few satirical articles mocking the authority's fight against what they regarded as a discriminatory Ryanair job ad looking for a "young and dynamic professional".

"It's a savage world out there," Dunphy snarled at a stunned Crowley on his Today FM show on that occasion. "You have no right to be monitoring it."

What a difference a decade makes. Ten years older, the world has obviously got a bit too savage for Dunphy and now he wants to be protected from its ageist bites.

Who's wrong? Who's right? It really doesn't matter. It's the giving it out but not being able to take it which is so unedifying. It would be a tragic thing to see in a great man. In a man like Dunphy, it's just a bit sad. Sad in the way that middle-aged men wearing hipsters is sad, that is, not sad like the ending of Casablanca.

The one consolation is that he'll probably change his mind again anyway. He does that a lot, as he himself concedes. "Many of my convictions, certainly about politics, have been completely wrong," he told Ursula Halligan in that fluffy TV3 interview a while back. "I've been on the left, the right, the left of centre, the right of centre."

It's just a shame they couldn't invent a few more points on the ideological compass especially for him. He's running out of directions. Psychologists often observe that the things about which people rail most loudly are those they fear in themselves. When he lambasts Norris as an "attention seeker" who loves the sound of his own voice, and Mick McCarthy as a whinger, maybe Eamon Dunphy is unwittingly unpeeling his own flaws.

The least he can do in recompense for leading his followers, Grand Old Duke of York style, up and down endless hills is to let the rest of us have a little fun at his expense. He certainly has little cause for complaint when mocked for the paucity of excuses he and his fellow Democracy Now celebrities have been spinning for their non-show at the ballot box this time around, when he was the one saying last summer that he was going to stand against Mary Harney at the first available opportunity in protest at the state of the health service.

How long does he need to prepare for an election?

To listen to Eamon Dunphy on Eleventh Hour, the real losers here are the Irish people, who will be denied great leadership at a time of crisis. On the plus side, didn't he once say that "you need dictatorships and poverty to produce great footballers"? We're half-way there already. At this rate, the next few World Cups should be in the bag for Ireland.

Sunday Independent