Eamon Dunphy believes that Republic of Ireland midfielder James McCarthy is Mr Ed, or to use the RTÉ soccer panel pundit's vernacular, "a talking horse". There are some who would assert that Dunphy represents the other end of a horse, anatomically speaking. It seems a little harsh on both.
By way of offering balance to the debate, fellow RTÉ panellist Liam Brady concurred with his colleague, also bemoaning the dearth of imagination and creativity from the central Irish midfield axis of McCarthy and Glenn Whelan.
Sporting analysts polarise public opinion, and none more so than Dunphy, television’s Marmite. He deals in extremes. According to him, Whelan and McCarthy are “paper players” before going from reason to rant in a nanosecond.
“McCarthy is just a talking horse,” he said. “Horses who are supposed to do great things on the gallops every morning but never produce it on the racecourse. This guy never produces a real performance for Ireland and he rarely produces it for Everton. He’s just no good.”
Dunphy resembles a runaway caboose verbally. When the wreckage of twisted imagery is viewed forensically, the point he is making is completely overshadowed by the pejorative tone or language.
Dunphy’s equine analogy is quirky (and slightly unfathomable in meaning) and his comment on McCarthy’s performances for club and country strident. To suggest that “he’s just no good,” is risible.
In a sentence, Dunphy has turned a debate on McCarthy’s on-pitch influence into one about the credibility of his testimony – or, perhaps more accurately, the need to apply a filter to his invective. It’s like going back in time to the California Gold Rush; folks had to sieve through a great deal of pyrite to find a nugget here and there.
Brady wasn’t enamoured with the lack of creativity from Ireland’s central midfield, lamenting that he wished the “midfield had more personality”. But his observations were rooted in the specific, his language moderate.
While McCarthy and Whelan were being panned by the panel, Wes Hoolahan, Ireland's Lionel Messi, was portrayed as a footballing artist. Exiled from international football during what we were informed were his golden years, Hoolahan's repatriation to national colours was heaven- sent to lighten the gloom.
Dunphy’s infatuation had him waxing lyrical in a singsong tone, using the word “divine” and ending with a sigh that “I love him [Hoolahan] because he’s a real footballer”. It was before the watershed, so he didn’t get a chance to elaborate further.
Hoolahan’s substitution perplexed the entire panel. So did Martin O’Neill’s original selection, the sloppy defending for the Scotland goal, and a lack of wit and subtlety in chasing a winner. That’s the abridged version.
In real time, it took about 49 minutes to laboriously tease out these topics, including a detour to the role of the Dublin and District Schoolboys League and their alleged refusal to work with the FAI in developing talented young players. The latter was asserted by Dunphy and Brady.
Richie Sadlier took an opposite view. Ay yes, the elephant in the studio, so to speak. The hue and cry that greeted John Giles omission from the match panel proved to be much ado about nothing for those not swayed by peripheral agendas.
Sadlier’s erudite contribution was enjoyable. He’s sharp and to the point, his observations thought-provoking, and he’s strong enough not to back down then he’s double-teamed. Darragh Maloney only had to interject once or twice to tell the panel that there were enough toys to go around and to play nice.
It panel was eminently watchable: the body language, interchange, solo runs, periodic lack of cohesion, continuity and patterns, the robust challenges and the route one stuff. The game itself was disappointing in comparison.