Remembering a night out with Bill O’Herlihy
The death of the doyen of Irish sports broadcasting yesterday robs us of a very decent, genuine man
“Is that Barry’s tea?” It sure is, Bill. May 2012 and Bill O’Herlihy has come to Banter for a football special to preview the upcoming European championships along with Brian Kerr and Miguel Delaney. He said he’d be around at 7.30pm and he was there at 7.30pm bang on the button. He poured the tea, took his notes out of his suit jacket pocket and got ready for action. There was a pro in the house.
He may have always maintained that he was just the anchorman and not an analyst, but he’d done his homework because a pro always prepares in advance. He’d a couple of teams and players picked out to talk about and he’d plenty to say as well about Ireland’s chances in Poznan and Gdańsk (all three could see hammerings coming for the poor Irish).
The best bits, though, were when Bill became Bill and he began to ask the questions and poke Brian and Miguel a bit. I just sat back and watched a master at work, as the others responded to his what-about-this queries. The crowd loved it. In fact, it’s fair to say that the crowd couldn’t believe he was there either – as someone remarked when he walked out of the venue at the end of the night surrounded by well-wishers and fans, “I can’t believe Bill O’Herlihy is in the Twisted Pepper”. But we invited him to come along and he said sure, why not?
Like everyone else in the country, I’ll remember him as the consummate TV sports broadcaster. He bossed that panel with Eamon Dunphy, Johnny Giles and Liam Brady like he was to the manor born. When you look at the anodyne, bland nonsense which passes for TV football punditry elsewhere, you have to ask what was the special sauce which made that RTE panel so engaging for so long.
Bill provided that special sauce by asking the questions that those of us on the other side of the screen wanted to ask. He wasn’t afraid to ask the obvious question or the one which was not obvious at all – his job was to get the most out of the experts. He’d react to the lads in much the same way as the audience watching at home or down the pub. If you watched closely, you could see he was pulling the strings, but he did it in a way which was never overt. Like all the best interviewers and presenters in the business, he did his best to let the action and the others be the stars of the show.
Most of all, as you watched him match after match on those grand set-pieces occasions of a major tournament or championship, he always came across as a decent, smart, smashing, genuine man, a real class act. We knew we’d miss him when he called it a day after the World Cup last summer, but we never expected to be saying goodbye to him so soon. He’ll be missed even more by his family, friends and former colleagues so deepest condolences to them on their loss. As the great man would say, we’ll leave it there so. Good night and God bless.