Early v Dunphy: Podcast pugilists keep it all above the belt

Mary Hannigan tunes in and waits for things to get ugly but it’s all about the beautiful game

For the podcast-listening-football-punditry-loving world, this was going to put the Thrilla in Manila in the ha’penny place – the mother, father, granny and granddad of all battles.

“Bring it on baaaaaaby,” Eamon Dunphy had declared back in September when he challenged Ken Early to a debate, The Dunph having taken exception to a column written by The Flame-Haired Flame-Thrower Of Truth in this here paper.

And on Thursday morning the moment had arrived, the pair had stepped in to the Second Captains ring and the podcast was up.

Gumshields inserted, and that was just the listeners. A bloodbath anticipated.


By the end of it, though, the only one whose reputation was left bruised was that of Manchester City defender John Stones, The Dunph alleging that he was fat. “Look at the size of his hips!”

Aside from that, it was all disappointingly civilised, the pair probably friending each other on Facebook as we speak. The Dunph possibly even taking The Flame-Thrower to Lillie’s for a pint and a croon.

"Well, that was all very . . . pleasant," Eoin McDevitt concluded, struggling to hide his dejection. "An enlightened and civil debate about modern football between two lovely football men . . . not what the bloodthirsty hordes of The World Service demanded."

Too right. Most would have had anticipated temperatures rising so high their podcast-playing-machines would have melted, maybe the gardaí having to be called after McDevitt and Ciarán Murphy failed to restrain The Dunph even by sitting on him, while the Flame-Thrower plucked biros out of his hair.

“Not as much blood on the tracks as we might have expected,” said McDevitt, but it wasn’t for the want of trying, him having intervened on a number of occasions to remind The Dunph about what had incensed him in the first place, lest he’d forgotten.

“The last couple of weeks have seen many pundits suggest that Jürgen Klopp doesn’t understand how to organise a defence,” the Flame-Thrower had written in September, before mounting so sturdy a defence of the Liverpool gaffer, Klopp might have been tempted to sign him instead of Virgil van Dijk.

The Dunph, irked, took to the airwaves. “Everyone knows about Liverpool’s defence except one very prominent writer . . . he wrote a piece today about defending which was daft. He mentions ‘pundits’ – who are the football pundits? Why doesn’t he come out and name people and have a proper debate? If you want to put it on, bring it on baaaaaby!”

Baby had brung it, seconds out, but instead of throwing one below the belt, just to get the bout started, The Dunph showered the Flame-Thrower with plaudits, which left the Flame-Thrower sounding morto.

ED: “I think Ken’s probably the best writer writing about sport in Ireland. I think he writes beautifully and that’s a wonderful thing. I love his stuff, it’s the second thing I go to on a Monday morning.” KE: “What’s number one?” ED: “Me.” (“I have to read my own column to see what I said to my contact in The Star”).

There then followed what was, admittedly, a highly absorbing discussion about the game, but there wasn’t a hint of the carnage that we had paid for. So Eoin stepped in again to try to stir things up, this time playing a clip when The Dunph said that the Flame-Thrower’s use of statistics was evidence that he didn’t know what he was talking about. And that real football people don’t need statistics, they just use their eyes, ears and commonsense.

But no bite. The pair were now getting on so famously that The Dunph even admonished John Giles for disrespecting The Flame-Thrower when he said “I wouldn’t necessarily agree with anything Ken Early says about football”. “I told John he was way out of order, this guy’s a good writer, leave him alone.”

Eoin gave up.

It finished with The Dunph offering the Flame-Thrower a bet, that Pep Guardiola wouldn’t win the Champions League with Manchester City unless he bought two or three new defenders.

KE: “What odds am I getting here?” ED: “I’ll give you a grand, which isn’t a lot these days – I know what you guys are earning.”

Eoin suggested the Flame-Thrower offer to cut The Dunph’s grass for six months should he lose the bet, but The Dunph turned down the suggestion because he didn’t want his gardener left unemployed.

But they’ll probably cut each other’s grass after this.

“When’s Ken v Giles,” asked Eoin, his thirst for blood unquenched. Bring it on, baaaaby.