Bill O’Herlihy spoke humbly about the role of luck, fate and talented colleagues in his career — in possibly his last time on the airwaves less than a fortnight ago.
The interview with RedFM in his native Cork prompted him to recount his break into television broadcasting, having started out as a reporter at this newspaper.
“I wanted to be editor of the The Cork Examiner at the time. I had done a small bit of radio broadcasting and when Frank Hall decided to do a programme on the Lusitania’s 50th anniversary, he wanted somebody to do an interview and there wasn’t anybody to do it,” he said.
After a lot of cajoling over three days, O’Herlihy was convinced to do the job and went to interview a Lusitania survivor in a hospital.
“You wouldn’t get three seconds now if somebody wanted you to go on telly so I was very very lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” he told Neil Prendeville.
Frank Hall gave him a regional reporter job on the Newsbeat programme on the back of it, and his stint in RTÉ current affairs continued until a controversy over his investigation of illegal lending in Dublin.
“I’m a great believer in the Lord moving in mysterious ways and I ended up in sport. That was actually the most rewarding part of my life,” he said.
O’Herlihy said great editors and panellists were pivotal to his success. “I had my own role to play. My job was to make them look good. I enjoyed that immensely. “And also, as [Liam] Brady would say, to throw in a few hand grenades to make them angry,” he said.
“We used get into desperate trouble in the studio because we were regarded as being not properly tuned into the national celebration. But we had a different job, our job wasn’t to be fans with typewriters.
“I enjoyed that immensely, and I miss it. But I don’t miss it in the sense that I feel I’ve made a mistake or anything like that,” he said.
Despite RTÉ’s statement that he had been working on a new show for RTÉ One, he told Prendeville he’d had no offers of TV work since his final World Cup broadcast last summer.
“To be honest about it, I don’t regard myself as being on the scrap heap or anything like that,” he said.
He jokingly blamed a Cork accent that would not translate to any foreign station for an absence of offers from overseas, despite British media praise for RTÉ’s soccer analysis. One of his last trips back to Cork coincided with commemorations of the centenary of the Lusitania’s sinking.
“It was incredible that the 100th anniversary came up and I said to myself: ‘My God, that spans my whole television career.’ And I was one of the lucky ones, I was in the right place at the right time,” he concluded.
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