It has been said that Pat Spillane is the Eamon Dunphy of RTÉ’s GAA coverage. It has also been said that George Hook was the Dunphy of RTÉ’s rugby coverage.
The template was clear.
On a panel of three ex-players, the Dunphy role was to be one of controversialist, polemicist, and general source of sulphur during debates.
Chosen by the Guardian as the best soccer pundit on TV anywhere, he certainly had his moments.
There was, of course, his iconic pen-throwing dismissal of Jack Charleton in 1990 following a dire 0-0 draw against Egypt which led to a public outcry.
There was his infamous “tired and emotional episode” during the 2002 World Cup where he appeared to be worse for wear on air one Sunday morning, which led to a temporary suspension.
There was his passionate defence of Roy Keane after his shock exit from Manchester United in 2005, which led to Dunphy and Bill O’Herlihy square off in very heated exchanges.
And how could we forget his one-man demolitions of people like Steve Staunton, Terry Venables, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the latter blasted as a cod?
Such was the impact of his attack on Venables, an ex-England manager, he blamed Dunphy for his not getting the Irish job.
Dunphy was for so long the epicentre of RTÉ’s soccer punditry.
Such was his tendency to go off, it was hard sometimes to know where the real Dunphy stopped and his Apres Match caricature began.
But RTÉ long felt compelled to use Dunphy as a critical voice on public policy matters on its current affairs programmes, despite his self-publicised use of cocaine.
His criticisms of the system were well-founded.
It is true to say that Dunphy, a former soccer player of moderate talent turned journalist, has been less impactful in recent years as the soccer pundit in chief.
The retirement of John Giles and the death of O’Herlihy have left Dunphy largely isolated and he went through the most recent World Cup almost unnoticed.
Hence, his decision yesterday to announce a departure from RTÉ after 40 years is no great shock.
In a statement, he said: “Two years ago, I decided not to renew my contract with RTÉ Sport. At the time, they prevailed upon me to stay and, in fact, offered me a rise, a small one, to do so.
“That’s where my energy will now be devoted. In my 40 years with RTÉ, I made many good friends and I wish them the very best for the future,” he said.
The Stand is a worthwhile listen but his departure from the TV screens draws a curtain on the most significant contributor in history to RTÉ’s sports programming.
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