Dunphy, Giles and Co to trump cross-channel bores
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Italia 90, we will be reliving all the action from that memorable World Cup
IT'S EARLY days yet and anything could happen, but already the signs look good for this compact, well-prepared Irish squad.
The mercurial Dunphy seems as sharp as ever after his prolonged, self-inflicted lay-off and John Giles remains the most accomplished instant-analyst around.
With Ray Treacy (RIP), they should prove more than a match for the crosschannel opposition. It isn't fanciful to imagine the studio panels in talking head-to-head competition. With almost all of the South cabled in one form or other and a decent RTE signal in most parts of the North, Irish viewers will, uniquely, have identical pictures of most matches available on more than one local-language channel.
In this situation, the panels are a very important element in making coverage distinctive. And, national perspectives apart, Dunphy and Giles will set the game in a different context to that provided by, say, Emlyn Hughes and Ron Atkinson.
ITV's bill is topped by laugh-a-line lads Saint and Greavsie. Also starring are chunkily-bejewelled comb-over baldie Atkinson, Emlyn Hughes, a man in his mid-forties who seems to shriek constantly with delight that his voice hasn't yet broken, and Rodney Marsh "currently associated with Tampa Bay Rowdies".
Wednesday night's ITV preview gave a taste of what's in store, with racing personality John McCririck gesticulating extravagantly and booming that "the bookies make Italia the numero uno" or that "the Russians" might be in trouble "with no Securitate".
Gems of bilingual wit which had studio anchorman Nick Owen gasping for breath in barely-controllable mirth.
On the same programme, Graham Taylor, who could talk a good game, spoke like a man who wants to be England's next manager and so has no intention of upsetting anybody who matters. And since it's impossible in these affairs to be certain who does matter, this means he says nothing.
The BBC also has a next England manager in Its side in Terry Venables, who likes being called Tel-boy and who seems set to impale himself on so many fences that by the end of the tournament he might be torn neatly into segments along the criss-crossing lines of perforation.
Of course, both British channels also have serious commentators — they are big into balance — but RTE's coverage will be of more consequence because it is in the nature of its principal panellists to put the play first into the context of football.
Dunphy is something of a star on; the basis of regularly-wrong opinions expressed with engagingly petulant dogmatism. What gives him weight is that his opinions are clearly genuinely-held and based on judgments about football. He may be "a good turn" but he's not doing a turn.
Giles isn't the most articulate or entertaining of men, but he has an unrivalled talent for recalling a match as a sequence of freeze-frame pictures and reading what each can tell us about a player, a tactic or a team.
It is this pair who will largely set the tone of RTE's coverage. It will be a higher tone, and more serious about soccer, than is available elsewhere.
For those who believe that what matters is what happens on the pitch, the choice of channel is already obvious.
If confirmation was needed, it came on Friday when ITV carried a cliched and insultingly patronising pre-match item about the Cameroons.
The African team's captain, Stephen Tataw reckoned that "of course" his side could beat Argentina. "And that's the Cameroons" smirked Elton Welsby. "Just be happy to be here."
Back in the studio, Nick Owen was urging viewers to phone in their votes as to whether Bobby Robson should select Barnes, Beardsley or Bull to play up front alongside Lineker in Caglieri tomorrow.
See if we care.