Frank! Incensed! Mirth!
The three wise men of Irish football punditry were back last night, as Eamon Dunphy, John Giles and Liam Brady reunited in a television studio for the first time in three years to kick off their seasonal stint on Premier Sports with the channel’s live coverage of Burnley v Manchester City.
It’s no exaggeration to say that, whether loved or loathed – and, especially in the case of the The Dunph, it was rarely a case of in between – these men revolutionised football analysis on the box in their must-see prime time, aided and abetted by the late and legendary Bill O’Herlihy.
In their temporary new surroundings of Premier Sports last night the job of keeping the chaps in line – or, preferably, provoking them to fall out of line – belonged to Ivan Yates, newly cast as the lone man upfront without his familiar television strike partner Matt Cooper.
The boy Yatesy is a Man City fan – it only took a clip of a few non-descript pre-match quotes from Pep for the host to swooningly profess his “love” for the manager – but his first duty was to tell the viewers that he was “delighted, privileged even, to be joined by the band who are back for their reunion tour”.
GAA coaching from those who know best: A brainstorming session with football's sharpest minds
Turning first to John Giles, he said: “I heard you were in at 9 o’ clock this morning, looking at video clips.”
“Yeah, that’s the way to do it, Ivan,” replied the sage, almost bashfully, making light of a long day which, not helped by the 8.15pm kick off at Turf Moor, had turned the comeback into a bit of a late, late show. .
For his part, Dunphy was quickly replaying some of his greatest hits. “These were two of the best players ever to play the game,” he said of Giles and Brady, “and I was one of the worst – but we get on!”
Next, Liam Brady was invited to offer his thoughts on the Premier League’s managerial merry-go-round, beginning with his own long-suffering Arsenal. And by the time they had all gotten ‘round to sinking their teeth into Man City’s defensive deficiencies, well, it was like they had never been away.
While Yates – either playing devil’s advocate or, more likely, viewing things through light blue glasses – suggested that the night’s game would be a “gimme” for his team, the panel were having none of that, their collective judgement being that if City were to win, it would only be by a narrow margin, Brady noting that Gabriel Jesus was no Sergio Aguero.
Dunphy shared his reservations but added with a laugh that, having said that, the striker would probably now go on to score a hat-trick. Onto the action and, wouldn’t you know it, the Brazilian was soon curling home one of the goals of the season as City proceeded to thoroughly boss the game.
Half-time found Liam “having to eat my words” and Giles now predicting – correctly as it turned out - that, on the basis of the first half, an early second goal for the champions could well see them go on to score three or four.
Cue the Brazilian, on the double, to make it 2-0 in the 50th minute, a reminder that, at this time of year, the Magi will always have to play second fiddle to Jesus.
Critics of the panel have been heard to complain that, towards the end of their days on RTE, they were showing signs of not quite being up to speed with the stat attacks which account for so much of football analysis these days. And, worse, one or other might even occasionally mispronounce a name, like Gilesy referring to “De Breen” last night.
But wisdom is a different ball game to mere knowledge, and Dunphy, Giles and Brady have always preferred to deal with the game’s eternal verities, cutting through the extraneous noise to get to the heart of the matter.
Form is temporary but class is permanent. Really, they shouldn’t be just for Christmas.