Keeping us in touch with reality
We have never got, from Gilesy, a comprehensive list of “the real teams”. The Real Madrid team of the 1960s certainly qualify, Brazil 1970, “The Liverpool team Ronnie played in”, AC Milan 89/90, Latter-day Barcelona. And Eamo would nominate “the Leeds team John played in’.
But we certainly know what it takes to be at the vanguard of reality.
Moral courage, of course. And honesty of effort. An ability to play every game on its merits. Just as important, to defend on its merits. You must work hard, produce the magic moments and do the bread and butter stuff as well.
Do your stuff at the right time and kill the game off when you have a chance. Avoid the high line and zonal marking. Never mention “tiredness”. Don’t get involved in showboating. Don’t get onto your teammates.
And always, always have somebody making himself available to receive the ball, to dictate the pace of the game. Which brings us to….
Marking out the middle ground
A few years ago, Gilesy told us the parable of Mick Bates, a bit-part player during his time at Leeds. “Good player, good ability, could have been better.” Gilesy got onto Bates regularly, trying to coax a little more out of him, until one day Bates called Giles aside on the training pitch.
“Look John, I know you want to be the best midfield player in the world, but I don’t want to be the best midfield player in the world.”
Gilesy didn’t tell the story as any kind of nod to his own greatness, more in sadness that there are men out there wary of the responsibilities required of anyone serious about working in the engine room.
And over the years, many midfield players, from Steven Gerrard to James McCarthy, have been outed, turning their backs when the full-back has the ball, refusing to demand it. “Because he (Gerrard) plays in midfield, people see him as a midfield player,” Gilesy once sighed. But he’d never give up trying to educate us.
Not knowing much about them
It has been a stick to beat Gilesy with, over the years, his refusal to spoof, his readiness to admit he “doesn’t know much about the Bulgarians, Bill”.
There was a culture shock in 2008, after the bubble burst and maybe everyone in RTÉ felt under a bit of extra pressure, and Dunphy chilled us with this stunning announcement: “John also watched the DVD of Cyprus.”
That kind of thing didn’t really last. Nor should it have. The critics had this one all wrong. If there was a footballer out there who wanted to be known by John Giles, he had better take the opportunities presented to introduce himself.
Leading the inquest
For as long as most can remember, the one constant of any major international tournament is the soul-searching and despondency about the state of football in these islands.
All down to the extinction of the little guy on the street. It is at these times that we have always been able to rely on Gilesy to itemise the obstacles to football progression: chief among them personal stereos, third-level education, and traffic.
Playstations have also been targeted, though in recent years Gilesy has opened his mind to the potentials of new technology: “If Robbie Keane had pulled that shot wide, the faxes coming in about Trapattoni would be unbelievable.”
Applying the seal on greatness
It has never mattered much whether Giles knows much about them, or has seen them on video, because he will tell you all need to know about a player after watching him for 20 minutes.
Nor has he had to row-back very often on snap judgments, unlike a more vocal panel colleague. His ability to read a game was arguably harnessed best sitting beside George Hamilton in the gantry, when he would tell us which full-back was the weak link by the time they’d been on the ball twice.
Greatness has been awarded sparingly. Aidan O’Brien or Henry Shefflin have never been recognised.
Those who have — Pele, Maradona, Bobby Charlton, Georgie Best, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi — should cherish the honour.