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Dublin: 9°C Saturday 26 September 2020

Bill O'Herlihy: A consummate broadcaster whose humility and warmth shone through

The TV presenter and journalist has died at the age of 76.

Bill O'Herlihy was involved in 10 World Cups and 10 Olympics.
Bill O'Herlihy was involved in 10 World Cups and 10 Olympics.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

“BROADCASTING WAS HIS passion. Family was his joy.”

RTÉ’s Head of Sport Ryle Nugent’s words were among the many warm tributes today that reflected how much presenter Bill O’Herlihy will be missed, after he suddenly passed away overnight.

O’Herlihy’s broadcasting talent goes without saying — you don’t work at 10 World Cups and 10 Olympics without being immensely skilled in the profession.

And though he was obviously someone who had a deep passion for sport, he simultaneously led the kind of rounded life that many of us aspire to, enjoying an early stint in the news department of the Cork Examiner among other newspaper roles, while also subsequently playing an important part in the Irish public relations industry and having a long association with politics and Fine Gael in particular.

However, it’s little surprise that of all the tributes that flowed in following today’s sad news, many were keen emphasise O’Herlihy the person, rather than focusing on his exemplary journalism over the years. Consequently, for someone so accomplished, it’s a measure of the man that he will be thought of primarily in terms of his personality.

O’Herlihy was uniquely Irish — an integral part of several iconic sporting moments in this country, perhaps most notably while covering the Irish soccer team at the 1990, 1994 and 2o02 World Cups.

But even non-Irish people who came across him got a sense of how special he was. The words of Liverpool’s German legend and some-time RTÉ panellist Didi Hamann earlier today rang true.

“Outstanding presenter and even better man,” he tweeted, poignantly encapsulating the broadcaster’s qualities in one simple sentence.

What was also remarkable about Billo was the almost unequivocal admiration he attracted — an incredibly rare feat for someone who was constantly in the public eye.

As his friend and long-time colleague, Eamon Dunphy, often likes to point out, being in the media is not “a popularity contest”. In other words, you will almost inevitably be disliked by a certain section of the public owing to the divisive nature of the role. However, O’Herlihy, while always being meticulous and highly professional in his work, was the exception to this rule.

Unlike some people in TV, he was palpably genuine in the way he conducted himself and effectively everything he did. Viewers sensed this quality, and it was therefore no surprise when he was given a heartfelt and much-publicised career send-off by RTÉ last summer.

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What made O’Herlihy special was his humility and warmth, traits inspired by the fact that he was almost entirely without ego. This tweet gives a good insight into his character…

His humble nature also shone through in an interview he did with Second Captains shortly after stepping down from his role as a presenter of RTÉ’s soccer coverage.

Listen to it and notice how he consistently plays down his importance and emphasises the role of others in his success — this is exactly why we loved Billo.

His unwitting part in a sketch on the RTÉ show Naked Camera also highlighted the presenter’s sense of humour. A more conceited individual might have thrown a strop and lost their temper, but Billo showed his customary grace and warmth throughout the incident.

Source: bunnyireland/YouTube

There was one thing he got wrong in the aforementioned Second Captains interview, however. When asked about his legacy, he was inevitably dismissive.

“Anybody could do what I’m doing and Darragh Maloney will do it, and in some respects, he’ll do it better than me, because he’s a better presenter… In a year’s time, they won’t even remember me.”

Little did O’Herlihy know that after the year in question, he’d more celebrated and missed than ever.

RIP Billo.

‘Alf has been deferred’ – 7 of the best quotes from Bill O’Herlihy>

13 reasons why we loved Bill O’Herlihy>

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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