Sunday 26 May 2019

Tony, always a man of peace, finds himself in this very weird war

Tony O’Donoghue
Tony O’Donoghue
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

When I first met Tony O'Donoghue he was working for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in Cork. In particular he was attached to the CND magazine called Disarmament Today, and on his watch - indeed at his instigation - it became Disarm!

The punchier title conveyed a sense of urgency about the dangers of a nuclear conflagration, one that accurately reflected the beliefs of the people who supported the magazine with advertising, those grand old establishments of the 1980s counter-culture in Cork such as the Quay Co-Op, the Phoenix bar, and Loafers, where, according to legend, they drank more tequila than in all the other pubs in Munster combined.

Those people had already placed a mental exclamation mark or two after Disarm! And who knows, maybe it is thanks to their eternal vigilance that we are here at all today. And so I would recommend that the next paragraph be read in the voice of the late Jimmy Magee:

"Tony O'Donoghue, always a man of peace… when Tony was Mister CND on Leeside, on the nuclear clock it was about four minutes to midnight…

"Last week it looked like we had about 20 seconds left and counting down… he could not have known, as he chanted 'ban the bomb' all the way down the Mardyke, that when World War III eventually came, not only could Tony O'Donoghue do nothing to prevent it, he would actually be one of the protagonists…

"Yes, for him it was Apocalypse Now..."

Yes, I suppose this might be construed as something of an exaggeration - it's a game of high emotions. But if you're looking for something that is out of proportion in these increasingly weird confrontations between the Republic of Ireland manager and the RTE interviewer, Martin O'Neill's withering interpretation of the words "hard luck" would be up there.

"Hard luck," Tony had said to him after the Denmark game, just before they did that difficult interview. "Hard luck"….

What can he have meant by that?

Having known Tony for a long time, I think I can make an educated guess about this one… just go with me here, OK?… the way it's sounding to me, and I'm only surmising here… Tony O'Donoghue just might have been using "hard luck" in its normal sense. Like, when somebody loses a football match, as Martin O'Neill had done, and you want to express some kind of solidarity of an informal kind and you shake hands with him and you say… "hard luck". O'Neill seemed to take the view that there was something more going on there, and that is his prerogative. But I'm here to tell you that he might not be calling this one 100pc right - it's a game of tight margins. Then again some of the greatest managers of the age have had this ability to introduce a note of hostility into situations which to others seem mundane. Indeed Sir Alex Ferguson introduced so many notes of hostility to every situation that he encountered, it was as if his personal physician had warned him that if for just one moment he stopped being ridiculously unpleasant to everyone at all times - most of all the accursed media - his very life force might fail.

Two things perhaps distinguish the Ferguson method from whatever O'Neill was doing. For a start Ferguson had won about 300 trophies, and if anything, the more success he had, the uglier his disposition.

Secondly he was not always starting a fight in an empty room there, he would be looking at certain members of Her Majesty's Media who would make the most fair-minded person weep for the fallen nature of Man.

But Tony O'Donoghue wouldn't be one of those types. It's not just I who know him, his colleagues also know him as one of the least "difficult" fellows who ever walked the earth - a state he has reached despite being a Tottenham Hotspur fan since childhood.

Indeed a seminal influence on his career in sports broadcasting was the goal scored from a free-kick by Gazza for Spurs against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final of 1991, and the commentary of Barry Davies:

"Is Gascoigne going to have a crack? He is, you know… (Gascoigne scores). "Oh I say! Brilliant! That is schoolboy's own stuff! That is one of the finest free-kicks this stadium has ever seen!"

Tony has watched that goal over and over, not just because these are perfect moments of football and football commentary, but because they were probably the only truly happy moments he has had with Spurs, in his life.

Undaunted, he would be ringing me up to celebrate the first Match of The Day of the season, singing along with the theme tune blasting out of the TV - you do that sort thing when you're younger, I mean neither of us would have been more than 38 at the time.

He was treated for cancer about five years ago, and was sustained by the vision of playing just one more game of football, on a proper pitch, with nets, and a referee - note that he did not ask in this vision for linesmen or a fourth official, again the basic reasonableness of the man comes through. He played that game too, scoring on his debut for the Greystones Utd over-35s against Bluebell, and then pulling a hamstring. But you can't have everything. He'll get over this.

Whatever it is.

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