Wednesday 24 January 2018

Remembering Bill O'Herlihy - a man the whole country fell in love with from their sitting rooms

Bill O'Herlihy
Ger Keville

Ger Keville

As 2015 draws to a close, Irish football fans can look forward to 2016 with great anticipation and excitement. We are back dining at Europe's top table but there will be one notable absentee when Martin O'Neill's Ireland grace the pitches in France at Euro 2016.

Bill OHerlihy sadly passed away last May. This article was originally published following his untimely passing.


He wasn’t just the face of Irish football broadcasting, he was a friend. A dear friend to all who knew him and even to those who had never met him.

Bill O’Herlihy oozed charisma and class and the Irish footballing public fell in love with his outgoing, affable personality.

It’s not just about the 90 minutes on the pitch when it comes to supporting the Irish football team. The subplot of Eamon Dunphy, John Giles and Liam Brady – spearheaded by the ever-professional Bill – often took centre stage.

Bill O'Herlihy during the Italia '90
Bill O'Herlihy during the Italia '90
Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O'Herlihy in the studio with grandchildren (from left) Bill O'Herlihy-Ryan (4), Jack Conlon (5) and Martha O'Herlihy-Ryan (5)
John Giles, Bill O'Herlihy and Eamon Dunphy
Bill O'Herlihy presenting RTE's Munich Olympics coverage in 1972
Bill O'Herlihy with John Giles, Eamon Dunphy and Liam Brady ahead of the FIFA 2014 World Cup Final
Bill O'Herlihy and Babs Keating at the Excellence in Sport Awards in Dublin.
Bill O’Herlihy launching the DSPCA’s free online will drafting service with Glenda, an eight-week-old Chihuahua cross in 2014
Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O Herlihy and wife Hilary at the screening of "The Price of Desire" in March of this year
Bill O'Herlihy hosting his last World Cup for RTE. Photo: Damien Eagers
Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O'Herlihy and his wife Hilary
Bill O'Herlihy with RTÉ soccer pundits John Giles and Eamon Dunphy in 1998
Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O’Herlihy prepares for another broadcast in RTÉ as the veteran broadcaster calls time on his illustrious career with World Cup 2014 coverage. Photo: Ronan Lang.
Bill O’Herlihy, John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy in studio
Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O'Herlihy alongside RTÉ soccer pundits John Giles and Eamon Dunphy
RTE sports pundits John Giles, Liam Brady, Eamon Dunphy and Bill O'Herlihy join local soccer star Gary Kelly at the launch of the Camino 'Walk for Cancer' in aid of the Gary Kelly Cancer Support Centre in Drogheda.
Pictured at The Aviva Stadium to launch The John Giles Foundation Walk of Dreams in 2012 were;, John Giles, Bill O'Herlihy, Liam Brady and Paul McGrath.PIC CO'R...HX
RTÉ sport presenter Bill O'Herlihy alongside RTÉ soccer pundits and former Republic of Ireland internationals John Giles and Eamon Dunphy
Bill O’Herlihy
RTE's Bill O'Herlihy with his granddaughter Isla Conlan at his book launch in 2012. Photo: Collins
Bill O'Herlihy
Bill O'Herlihy

Bill had the unique ability of mixing humour and colour with an astute professional attitude to give us the perfect combination over an incredible 49 years working in broadcast journalism.

He led the line when it came to the RTE panel. Dunphy once famously claimed that he has “managed to stay alive for 63 years, baby,” when asked about his credentials as a football boss. Like Eamon, Bill had no managerial experience on the football pitch, but he did manage to keep Dunphy, Giles et al at the forefront of football punditry for so long.

He was the defining piece of a masterful jigsaw. The man who rowed Dunphy back in when needed. The man who defused many a heated row with his jovial wit and gentle approach. He had that special affinity not just with the football public, but the whole of Ireland. Bill O’Herlihy was loved by everyone.

While his gentle demeanour will be forever etched in our memories, Bill also knew exactly what strings to pull to stoke the debate between the panel.

Outspoken Dunphy often tried to stamp his authority on proceedings, but ice-cool Bill was always the man who stayed in control. 

In an emotional tribute on RTE Radio's News at One, his sidekick and friend for so many years, Eamon Dunphy, said that “O'Herlihy's style was hugely popular with a wide audience and his ability to stoke debate, inject humour and facilitate detailed discussion on the RTE soccer panel marked him out as somebody special”.

Dunphy added: "That is the essence of good journalism, that you make people want to engage with the subject. You don't make it obtuse, you don't make it something technical. You make it human. To do that requires great skill.”

While the football world analysed every match with him, the wider public shared his radiant smile and were captivated by his mere presence.

Last year, a bride to be called Julie-Ann Coleman decided to take a chance and see if Bill would send a good luck message to football mad fiancé David Jones. It was somewhat a shot in the dark but Bill rose above and beyond her request to record a six-minute hilarious video analysing the happy couple with Dunphy , Giles and Brady that went viral.

It captured his professionalism and humanity in one memorable clip. If Bill O’Herlihy was to do this, he was going to do it 100pc. And if it was to make someone happy, there would be no holding back.

Bill made the bride and groom’s day. He made watching sport much more memorable for the nation. Next month marks the 25th anniversary of Italia 90 and many memories involving Bill. His untimely passing will no doubt add to the nostalgia.

He is survived by his wife Hilary and daughters Jill and Sally.

RIP Bill. We’ll leave it there so.

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