Thursday 14 December 2017

we'll leave it there so, Bill


SOON it will all be over. There are just five matches to go - today's remaining two quarter-finals, the two semis and the final itself next Sunday - and then the World Cup is done for another four years.

Like countless other football fans, I'll be sad to say goodbye to Brazil 2014. For all the turmoil going on in the background, it's been a magnificent competition, one of the best World Cups I've ever seen, characterised by heart-stopping twists and turns, an avalanche of goals and several sparkling individual turns.

But there's another reason for sadness. When the curtain comes down on the World Cup next Sunday night, it also comes down on Bill O'Herlihy's tenure as RTE's chief football anchor, a position he's held since 1978.

Bill's successor in the job will be Darragh Moloney, who's been sharing anchoring duties during this World Cup, as he has done in previous major tournaments and on RTE's much-missed Premiership Soccer Saturday. He's proved many times over he's an outstanding sports broadcaster and is the perfect choice for the job.

But - and though I've never met 
the man, I very much doubt he'd mind me saying this - he's not Bill.

I've never met Bill, either. The closest our paths came to crossing was in a busy Dublin pub in the 1980s, when I was sitting at one end of the bar and he at the other, talking to a friend and puffing on a torpedo-sized cigar.

I did, however, once unintentionally upset his brother, who rang me at the Irish Independent, where I was working at the time, to complain about something I'd written about Bill. The memory still makes me wince.

In a piece about why RTE's live football coverage was far superior to the BBC or ITV's, I'd written that Bill "expertly plays the gobshite". I wasn't suggesting Bill is a gobshite - anything but, in fact. I was merely trying (and obviously failing miserably) to make the point that his brilliance lies in the way he asks Giles, Dunphy, Brady et al the kind of questions the football fan watching at home would want answered.

Sometimes the questions are incisive, other times they're deliberately naive. At all times, though, Bill is playing devil's advocate, cleverly steering, prodding and even provoking the panel as a way of teasing out their thoughts.

In retrospect, I could probably have chosen my words more carefully, but my intentions were never anything other than honourable.

Needless to say, I won't be using the G-word today. I will, though, invoke a different G-word: genius. Because what Bill O'Herlihy does really is a kind of genius. At this stage the RTE football panel is a well-oiled machine and Bill is the one exerting masterly control over the levers and switches that make it run smoothly.

As the years have passed and the panel has expanded to accommodate the likes of Ronnie Whelan, Dennis Irwin, Richie Sadlier, Kenny Cunningham, Dietmar Hamman, Osvaldo Ardiles, Graeme Souness and, a new addition this World Cup, Brad Friedel, Bill's mastery has grown even greater.

Souness, who was part of RTE's team for the 2010 World Cup and has also been a pundit for Sky Sports and Al Jazeera, has frequently said he likes working with RTE best of all because of the "call it like it is" ethos of the panel.

Bill O'Herlihy's role as ringmaster - and, on those occasions when the studio arguments get overheated, firefighter - should never be underestimated.

He's been a part of Irish football fans' lives for three-and-a-half decades, so come next Sunday night, I hope he gets a big, sloppy, sentimental, teary (we're depending on you, Eamon Dunphy) send-off, because nobody deserves it more.

As the man himself would say, we'll leave it there, so.

Iran or Out? In what must rank as the most bizarre creative decision of the year, Iranian television has produced a remake of comedy series Modern Family, called Haft Sang.

There has, mind you, been an important alteration: two of the original's main characters, Mitch and Cam, the gay couple, have been axed. Homosexuality, you see, is punishable by death in not-quite-so-modern-after-all Iran - which, now that I think of it, probably renders "axed" a rather tasteless term.

You do have to wonder what an Iranian remake of Queer as Folk might be like. Endless shots of empty sets, perhaps?

mad cowell disease: In other, even less important news, Cheryl Cole now says Simon Cowell was "right" to kick her off the The X Factor USA, which itself has since been kicked off American television following a wave of viewer indifference.

The sink estate Princess Di said she "wasn't well in the head" at the time, adding: "It felt like a nervous breakdown. I went through hell and it literally drove me mad."

What, literally? Really?

Cheryl has now fully recovered from temporary insanity and is ready to reclaim her old berth on the original X Factor. I imagine people with mental health problems would kill - literally, of course - to find out the secret of Cheryl's self-healing success.

open-mouthed: Man vs Food star Adam Richman's new show, Man Finds Food, has been dropped by the Travel Channel after Richman went on a foul-mouthed rant against a fellow Instagram user.

Richman posted a selfie of his new, slimmer body with the hashtag #thinspiration, a term associated with websites that encourage unhealthy weight loss. When someone objected, Richman responded with a string of invective, including: "Grab a razor blade and run a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you." That man needs Cheryl Cole's expert help, and fast.

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