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gift of the gob RTE's football punditry is greyer, safer, tamer without Eamon Dunphy's eruptions - Lord you'd miss him!

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Eamon Dunphy's brilliance was to know his role and to play it in a way that, at his best, offered compelling, unmissable TV

Eamon Dunphy's brilliance was to know his role and to play it in a way that, at his best, offered compelling, unmissable TV

Eamon Dunphy's brilliance was to know his role and to play it in a way that, at his best, offered compelling, unmissable TV

EAMON Dunphy, with studs up, in feral, attack-dog mode was, for decades, the anarchic and irresistible accompanying soundtrack to a World Cup or European Championship summer.

The Mount Etna of Irish punditry in full, furious eruption, his molten fury scorching anybody from Michel Platini to Mick McCarthy, was box-office, baby!

This was not Dunphy, the radio or podcast host: That version of a multi-layered character is curious, considered, erudite, empathetic, his piercing intelligence evident in a sequence of delicate, probing, and compelling interviews.

No, the Eamo that took his seat next to John Giles, Liam Brady, and the late Bill O’Herlihy was an edgy polemicist, a simmering saucepan, a man with an implicit understanding of his role as the headline act in an evening of showbiz.

He was a hurricane made flesh.

The public tuned in for the Punch cartoon caricature: Wild-eyed, incendiary, pen-throwing, ungovernable, hypocritical, inconsistent, saying the unsayable, ranting in Force Ten mode without fear or filter, and, in case they’d forgotten, occasionally letting his audience know he was the last straight-talker in a PC world gone mad.

Hand Eamo the loaded blunderbuss and duck as he takes scattergun aim.

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Eamon with the late Bill O’Herlihy and Johnny Giles

Eamon with the late Bill O’Herlihy and Johnny Giles

Eamon with the late Bill O’Herlihy and Johnny Giles

Take that Ronaldo, you show-pony, you disgrace to football, you cod.

All washed down with a bad-boy ocular twinkle and a cigarette-smoker’s cackle that was The Dunph’s way of reminding you that it was, to borrow from the title of his seminal 1970s football diary, only a game, baby!

Dunphy could hit the bull’s-eye one moment and miss the barn door the next; if some of his viewpoints were consistent, others were unashamedly contradictory; he could arrive brilliantly at the nub of a controversy or take a crazy, round-the-houses detour that went gratuitously over the top.

The thrill was that you simply didn’t know what was coming next.

At times, his rage appeared manufactured, his antennae raised and awaiting the moment to slip into character, as a sporting version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Here’s Eamo!

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If you wanted complex tactical insight or subtle analysis then, maybe he wasn’t for you. But you don’t hire Carlos the Jackal and expect an audience with Confucius.

Dunphy’s brilliance was to know his role and to play it in a way that, at his best, offered compelling, unmissable TV.

Many tuned in almost hoping the game would be terrible, because the quality of the show Eamon put on tended to be in inverse proportion to that offered by the contest which he was assessing.

Others turned in to be outraged, to call Dunphy every name under the sun, to throw metaphorical custard pies in his direction, to justify ringing Joe Duffy and declaring they would not pay their TV licence, to swear, that so long as he was on the RTE payroll, they would never tune in again.

Even as they set their Sky Box to record his next must-see appearance.

If he could be brutish and loud and illogical and terribly unkind, he was also witty and sparkling and charismatic and self-deprecating: “I’ll have you know that I’m not a failed Third Division footballer. I’m a failed Second Division footballer.”

At the peak of his powers, he was a great broadcaster, not a good broadcaster. A ratings jewel in RTE’s crown.

And then, like his cousins in the colourful soundbite industry, Joe Brolly and George Hook, he was gone.

It is true that in the latter years it could seem at times that his schtick had become a little jaded, slightly forced, not always at one with the unfolding reality.

But, Lord, you’d miss him now.

RTE football presentations are smaller, greyer, safer, tamer, subversive-free off-Broadway shows in his absence: What was once compulsory viewing has become optional.

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John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy

John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy

John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy

What was once an agenda-setting show delivered in blazing technicolour is now quiet and monochrome.

Darragh Maloney is a superb professional, and the ex-players around him can tell you all you need to know about the merits of 3-5-2 or a false 9 or gegenpressing.

But the production just doesn’t flicker with the danger that comes with having a Brendan Behan or an Oliver Reed in the studio.

The chemistry between Dunphy and Giles and Billo, the undercurrent of friction between Dunphy and Brady or Kenny Cunningham or Richie Sadlier, were frequently infinitely more memorable than the game that was supposed to form the centrepiece of the afternoon or evening.

Back then you made your cup of tea during the game so you wouldn’t miss the half-time carpet-bombing of some unfortunate English full-back. On the crazier nights, a smell of napalm rose above Montrose.

RTE, it seems, made a conscious decision to reimagine a once riotous, intoxicating tequila-infused night on the tiles as a sober, sedate Guinness Light or Heineken 0.0.

On the eve of the European Championships, Dunphy offered his view on his successors.

He is not a fan: “An insult to the audience” and “embarrassing” were among his critiques.

It was a reminder that, approaching his 76th birthday, Mount Etna has not gone dormant. When it gets worked up, the old volcano can still spit fire into the sky.

When the finals kick-off this weekend, it will, for many, be without the remote control’s old default setting of RTE all the way.

ITV, with Gary Neville and Dunphy’s ally turned foe, Roy Keane, is now the go-to option for the one-liner that will light up social media.

Keane’s midweek putdown of plans to include a less than fully-fit Jordan Henderson in the England squad – “I’ve heard people say, ‘They want him around the place’, for what? Does he do card-tricks?” – was the kind of scathing, pitiless nugget that was once Dunphy’s calling card.

The kind of imperishable line that lingers long after some studied analysis of Croatia’s transitioning from defence to attack has faded into the ether.

The kind of funny, cutting instantly quotable clip RTE delivered when The Dunph was king of Donnybrook and football analysis on the station was showbiz, baby!

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