Wednesday 13 December 2017

George Hook: I've lost more than a friend in Bill O'Herlihy. We have lost our greatest sports broadcaster

Bill O’Herlihy celebrates his IFTA award in 2007
Bill O’Herlihy celebrates his IFTA award in 2007
George Hook

George Hook

With the death yesterday of Bill O'Herlihy, I lost more than a work colleague and a friend; the man who had the single biggest effect on my career passed away aged 76. The greatest sports broadcaster we have ever seen did not live long to enjoy the fruits of the retirement he so richly earned.

However, he has left behind a template for the neophytes that inhabit modern day sports radio and television. O'Herlihy's skill was that he constantly made every effort to make his guests look good. My father once remarked, "any eejit can try and look smart, but it takes a very smart man to look like an eejit." Bill's genius was that he played the ordinary man to perfection. He lobbed grenades at John Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady with a disarming opening line.

Dunphy defined presenting perfectly, " the role of the presenter," he said, "was not to show how much he knew, but rather how much the guest knew." It fitted O'Herlihy like a glove. Like all skills it was honed by practice and attention to detail. He was a hard taskmaster but he hid it under an avuncular exterior. Many a producer or researcher felt the sharp lash of Bill's tongue, if standards dropped.

He was a proud son of Cork and never forgot his roots in the city and his early training at the Examiner newspaper. George he told me, "you and I are tribal Cork men when push comes to shove. We only watch hurling when Cork are playing, Munster are the country's premier rugby province and Rona O'Gara, is yer only man for the number 10 shirt."

Bill was the original chairman of the rugby panel and he taught me a most important lesson on my second appearance on TV.

I was explaining Eric Miller's performance and remarked that he had very high cardio-vascular endurance. Bill donned his plain man's demeanour and asked what did I mean by those big words. I had to sheepishly admit that I meant that he was very fit.

After the programme he took me aside and explained that 75pc of the people that watched sport did not comprehend it and it was our job to make it understandable. I never forgot his advice and it remained my yardstick in my television career. Today's experts would do well to heed the words of a man who understood the medium.

Thirteen years ago I was offered an job in radio, and nobody advised me to take it. Just as I was about to turn down the offer I bumped in to Bill and he told to absolutely take the job. It was advice that changed my life. I owe him more than I could ever repay.

O'Herlihy was a one-off. The mould is broken but the example remains for others.

We will not see his like again because the modern cult of pay per view TV places more emphasis on shallow presentation.

Bill was lucky in his home life. Hilary, the love of his life, was always supportive and his daughters Jill and Sally gave him constant joy. In this most difficult time our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Irish Independent

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