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25th May 2015

The Irish football fan’s constant companion: SportsJOE remembers Bill O’Herlihy

What a legend


Today, we lost a man who saw us through our younger years as the devil’s ultimate advocate

Bill O’Herlihy passed away, this morning, aged 76.

Although many of us at SportsJOE only became aware of Bill during the golden summer of his career [from Italia 90], we caught many of his greatest years and heartfelt, engaging moments.

We felt it was only right to pay tribute to the man that made ‘Okey Doke’ part of Ireland’s sporting vernacular.

Gareth Makim

Bill had all the qualities of the consummate host, keeping order over what was often an unruly panel yet always asking the questions we wanted to ask the likes of Dunphy and Giles to answer and never getting in the way of the spirited discussions that followed. He facilitated the rise of RTÉ’s football coverage to levels that were rarely, if ever, matched on the other side of the Irish Sea. But my abiding memories of him centre around the relaxed presenting style and good humour that let the viewer know that as serious as the football debate was, the lads in the studio were always having a ball.

Conán Doherty

There’s a very thin line between being a knowledgeable presenter and being an outspoken one. Between being humorous and obnoxious. Between being loved and hated. Bill O’Herlihy is one of the very few television personalities never to cross that line. He had, and always will have, this endearingly unique ability to never take centre stage or steal the spotlight, whilst somehow always managing to worm his way into the hearts of the nation with unanimous popularity.

Patrick McCarry

Although I first chanced upon Billo and the boys at Euro ’88, it was not until Italia ’90 that I began to appreciate his ability to act as the devil’s advocate and spokesperson for footballing layman across the country. ‘Would it be fair to say…’ would usually bring you to the edge of your seat as John, Liam or, more often than not, Eamon took the bait. Bill sat back, smiling, content. His work was done.

Robert Redmond

My favourite Bill moment is also my favourite Eamon Dunphy moment. In November 2005, following Roy Keane’s shock exit from Manchester United, the RTE panel were divided on the player, with Liam Brady of the opinion that the Manchester United captain had behaved unprofessionally and had to exit the club. Dunphy regarded Keane as humanity’s finest.

As Dunphy and Brady bickered, Bill offered the opinion of another journalist whom called Keane a ‘thug’, which caused Dunphy to lose it. It was ‘gutter journalism’, Eamon protested, and said he wasn’t going to sit there and listen such a opinion, taking off his microphone like he was about to walk off set, but remained sitting in his seat railing against the journalist in question, ‘who ran off with a young one’.

Bill kept his cool though, saying that he was merely offering an alternative opinion, and maintaining his professionalism despite the animated Eamon dropping bombs on live TV. Incidents like this is what made the RTE panel, and Bill, so brilliant. Not only would you not see pundits arguing like this on other channels’ football coverage, you wouldn’t see a host so willing to challenge the pundits.

He allowed the panel to vent and argue, but managed to apply structure, took his own opinions out of the equation, but maintained a warm personality, managed to display a camaraderie with the panel, but was devoid of the bullshit ‘banter’ so many other hosts fall victim to. Bill brought the best out of Giles, Dunphy and Brady, and it made for great television.

Ben Kiely

I think every Irish football fan is feeling a little bit emptier today. Although most of us didn’t know him personally, when you grow up with someone like that it’s difficult not to feel some sort of strange connection with them.

Through the dizzying highs of Italia 90 and the 2002 World Cup, and the crushing lows of failed qualification campaigns, changes in management, reshuffled squads and retiring legends, Bill and co. remained the one constant. He’ll be sorely missed.

RIP Bill

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