Sunday 16 December 2018

Dunphy finally gives RTE back its ball

CALL IT: Eamon Dunphy. Photo: Steve Humphreys
CALL IT: Eamon Dunphy. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

From A Football Man, the autobiography of John Giles which I co-wrote, I quote:

"He was just a 10-year-old kid then and he lived directly across the road from Tolka Park. At Stella Maris, we older lads regarded him as a bloody nuisance because he was always hanging around, running away with the table-tennis ball and generally annoying us.

"I have clear memories of irate table-tennis players dragging this poor little guy across the floor, shoving his face into the ground and demanding to know what he had done with the ball. He refused to be intimidated - in fact, we never got that ball back. When he wasn't disturbing the peace at Stella he was said to be an outstanding young footballer. His name was Eamon Dunphy."

Well, RTE has finally got its proverbial ball back from Eamon Dunphy at the age of 72, and, of course, they had already retired John Giles from the table, which is a weird kind of corporate "achievement" in itself.

In show business, of course, nobody knows anything… except perhaps one thing: that if somehow for a few magical moments the planets align in such a way that you find something that works, that is good, that is successful, you cling to that thing with such ferocity that only death itself will separate you from it.

Death indeed has been no deterrent to the publishers of books by best-selling authors from Robert Ludlum to Mickey Spillane who were still apparently producing some of their finest work when they were no longer alive.

And yet RTE cast aside this one thing that we know, a "pearl richer than all their tribe". They had the football panel with Giles and Dunphy at its core, perhaps the most successful team of any kind in the history of Irish broadcasting, and with that special kind of dedication to be found only in the highest echelons of executive culture, they broke up that panel - and yes I know that a lot of pundits can seem to talk quite plausibly about football, but they're a bit like the lads on the pirate radio stations who used to give the weather by looking out the window. Giles, by contrast, is a meteorologist of world renown, he is The Weatherman.

And without him, Dunphy was not really himself. It would be a rare major tournament that he would not adorn with some fantastic atrocity, such as the time when - perfectly understandably - he turned up drunk for a World Cup game between Russia and Japan on a Sunday morning. Sadly, Russia 2018 passed without incident, as if his heart was no longer in it, as if he knew that any organisation capable of "retiring" John Giles is capable of anything. And not in a good way.

He never looked right standing at that stupid big machine, like the one they have on Sky Sports, trying to operate this electronic tactics board with the modern lads. Here they were forcing a man with the soul of an artist to carry on like some game-show contestant, reducing the complex patterns of his talk to this button-pushing, to this procedure which was all too literal-minded.

RTE's panels had always been better than Sky's, thanks to Dunphy and Giles, now it seemed they were intent on copying their inferior competitor. Moreover, Dunphy doesn't look at all jaded during his increasingly frequent appearances on TV3's The Tonight Show - only last week the response to his suggestion that we should stop giving the Brits such a hard time on Brexit was changing from dog's abuse to one of acceptance as the conventional wisdom.

It had always been seen as odd that a football writer should insist on having opinions about life in general, whereas the truly odd thing is that many football writers seem to think they have no business connecting the game to anything else that happens in the universe.

Coming late to journalism, Dunphy could see there were many such basic misapprehensions - they didn't understand that "the facts" can be wildly manipulated whereas an honestly-held opinion is usually more reliable, and so the "fans-with-typewriters" were not just wrong, they were the worst of all things, they were boring.

Ultimately his craving for adrenaline would always make television the ideal medium for Dunphy, making a virtue out of his urge to live in the moment, to call it and then to call it again if he was getting tired of the first call, to connect with his emotions rather than to be bothering himself too much with the actual name of the full-back for Borussia Dortmund.

Any old pundit can tell you that, just by looking at a team-sheet, but they wouldn't be able to stage a classic performance such as Dunphy's on the abortion referendum, when he stated on The Tonight Show that his response brought his emotions into conflict with his reason, which led to him eventually disagreeing with himself, on key aspects of the proposition.

Some of us saw in this the never-ending struggle between the gambler's head and the gambler's heart, informed by the memory of so many days when he backed the wrong one - of all public figures with a broadly progressive cast of mind, he is the one perhaps furthest away from an appreciation of the powers of talking therapies to resolve such issues.

He may indeed fear that any such conflict resolution, any such "cure" would make all his powers disappear - let others go figure the meaning of the boy who ran off with the table-tennis ball, the boy himself has spent much of his professional life re-playing that scene in other ways in venues far more salubrious than Stella Maris, and still getting away with it.

He could also point out without fear of contradiction, that the kind of management which led RTE to lose Giles and now Dunphy... for that there is no cure. Baby.

Oh, I do pine for that 'little wise old man'

If I was to pick one line that I wished I'd written, one riff that I love in a deeply special way, it is the one told by economist Colm McCarthy (of this paper) to the man from Vanity Fair, Michael Lewis, which appeared in Lewis's fabulous piece on The Crash in Ireland.

It was about the night in October 2008 when Patrick Neary, the Financial Regulator, appeared on Prime Time to reassure us that the Irish banks were "resilient", and "more than adequately capitalised" and so forth.

McCarthy described it thus: "What happened was that everyone in Ireland had this idea that somewhere in Ireland there was a little wise old man who was in charge of the money, and this was the first time they'd ever seen this little man. And then they saw him and said, Who the f**k was that??? Is that the f**king guy who is in charge of the money??? That's when everyone panicked."

A lot of people still go for "the shoeshine boy" moment as the classic warning that news of some financial catastrophe is in the post, but I prefer "the little wise old man" moment.

And I think that Britain may have had it last week, with the announcement that the government would "make sure that there's adequate food supplies" in the event of no-deal Brexit.

Like our "little wise old man", the Brexit secretary Dominic Raab may have felt he was providing reassurance when he added that "it would be wrong to describe it as the government doing the stockpiling" - though he acknowledged that the government "would work with the food industry to ensure that a no-deal outcome would not disrupt supply".

A useful clarification there, allaying fears that Theresa May herself would be stacking up the tins of bully beef in a cavern underneath the Houses of Parliament - no, they will be leaving that to the trained professionals.

At any moment when the dream of Brexit encounters reality in any form, it disintegrates - it happened with the Irish Border, but obviously that doesn't matter to the English people quite as much as, say, wartime rationing when there's no war going on.

I may have mentioned this before, but one more time: there will be no Brexit.

As Warhol told us, anticipating Twitter, “in future everyone will be the Worst Person In The World for 15 Minutes”.

And so it was Tony McGregor’s turn last week, when he made what he must have thought was a joke, about the Dart giving him all those rubbishy coins as change for a crisp new €20 note.

Observing the massive attack on his alleged vulgarity, I noted that this was not just showing us the notorious inability of social media users to recognise that a joke is indeed a joke, it was also showing us how much harder it is for someone with McGregor’s accent to be given the benefit of the doubt in these situations.

It would almost make you think that we hadn’t completely worked out that issue of Class.

Sunday Independent

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