It’s 2005 and Eamon Dunphy is jabbing his finger angrily at Bill O’Herlihy, the late great RTÉ Soccer presenter. The pair are arguing about a column written in the Sunday Times that Dunphy sees as a character assassination of a high-profile Irish footballer with whom he is associated. The only problem is, Bill can’t remember the name of the journalist who wrote it.
“I’ll tell you who wrote it,” snaps Dunphy, fuming. “I can remember his name. Rod Liddle. He’s the guy who ran away and left his wife for a young one.”
Only Dunphy could have uttered one of the most famous lines in Irish footballing history without even referring directly to a footballer. Upon the announcement of Dunphy’s resignation from RTÉ’s coverage, it was one of his quips most widely shared and repeated on social media.
For a young wan? https://t.co/ctj0Dm7C6U
— Mark Conroy (@smark993) July 25, 2018
Which, despite the vastness of his back catalogue, is understandable. It encapsulates pretty much what Dunphy is all about: impulsive and passionate outbursts in which nothing is sacred and no-one is immune to criticism (except perhaps John Giles, Dunphy’s long-time former colleague on the RTÉ panel).
Dunphy has never been afraid to call a spade a shovel. He says it how he sees it, and even if no-one else sees it the same way it’s rare that he holds forth in a manner that fails to entertain or incite a reaction.
For some, that agent provocateur shtick has become obsolete in an era where detailed analysis and encyclopedic knowledge is demanded from pundits. But this is to ignore the point of Dunphy, which of course is to simply be Dunphy. Intricate tactical dissections are all well and good, but you won’t hear many xG boffins saying things like, “Kilbane’s head is better than his feet. If only he had three heads, one on the end of each leg.”
He’s been chucking out quotes like that fairly non-stop for 40 years now. As a result there are few men or women more synonymous than Dunphy with football in Ireland, and more specifically with its ‘golden age’ in the (late) 1980s and 1990s. For people in Ireland, the 1990 World Cup wasn’t just Dave O’Leary and Packie Bonner, it was also Dunphy, Giles, O’Herlihy and Liam Brady, who with Dunphy gone is the only remaining link to that era on the RTÉ panel.
To an entire generation of fans on the island, for better or worse there’s no separating Dunphy from the relative successes of Italia 90 and USA 94. His words and his actions are part of it all, even if he was sitting in a studio in south Dublin.
Of course, there’s no getting away from those claims that Dunphy is outdated, a relic of times past. But let it not be discounted that in his time he was an avid reformer within Irish football. He tried to modernise coaching methods in the League of Ireland while on the staff at Shamrock Rovers, but failed, as he did with an ill-fated attempt during the 1990s to ‘move’ Wimbledon FC to Dublin in order for Ireland to have a Premier League team.
He may not always have gone about it the right way, but this was a man who aimed for progress. Fittingly, Dunphy has said that he will dedicate his post-RTÉ career to The Stand, his solo podcast. There’s surely no more contemporary a journalistic pursuit than that of the full-time podcaster.
Love him or hate him, Dunphy leaves a huge gap to fill.
He may be past his sell-by date for national television, but there aren’t many pundits out there who can hope to match him for charisma, passion or pure car-crash magnetism. Thanks for the memories, Eamon, and best of luck.