AS one pundit has observed, Bill O’Herlihy likes to wear one expression in the studio – "I’m a complete gobshite, please enlighten me further..’’
He may adopt the tone of a clueless interlocutor, but Bill has shrewdly guided RTE’s football panels for 34 years, playing the role of everyman in search of answers. This week he announced that he is hanging up his microphone after the next World Cup in 2014.
Every great comedy act needs a straight man, and Bill has played that role to perfection with Eamon Dunphy and the other panellists
He knows when to let a panellist go on, as in Eamon’s reflections on the sturdily-built Celtic player, John Hartson.
“Bill, Hartson is not a £7 million pound player....it’s a disgrace, a shambles! This is the state of football today, Bill. I have a clip here of why Hartson is not a £7million player....Roll it there, Bill!”
After one second of the clip: “Okay, hold it there, Bill.”
Dunphy draws a circle around Hartson's backside:
“Bill, that is not the arse of a £7million player!''
Often there was more heat than light in the studio, but RTE’s longest-serving panel is also occasionally its most successful comedy act .
Here they are on the subject of the Brazilian, Ronaldinho.
Dunphy: "He had two great seasons, Bill, he was World Footballer of the Year and he won the Champions’ League for Barcelona. And then he went to the party."
Giles: "He's still at the party, Bill."
Bill: "It must have been one of Eamon's parties!"
O’Herlihy’s apparently never-ending role as an RTE sports anchor (he was at the microphone for the Munich Olympics in 1972) began as the greatest sideways move in Irish broadcasting.
When he was transferred from current affairs into sport at the start of the 1970s he was told by the then head of sport Michael O’Hehir: “Bill, I don’t want you, but you are welcome.”
O’Herlihy’s panel was never more entertaining than when they were getting things wildly wrong.
Dunphy famously dismissed the silky-skilled Frenchman Michel Platini as “a good player, but not a great player”.
As the writer Dermot Bolger recently remarked, the marriage of O’Herlihy and Dunphy can truly be described as “not a good marriage but a great one”.
Okey-doke, gentlemen. We’ll leave it there then, so.