Liam Brady on his last match working with RTÉ. Morgan Treacy/INPHO
talking point

Liam Brady's RTÉ departure marks the end of a certain style of punditry

The Ireland legend worked on his final show during the latest international window.

THIS WEEK the venerated American director Quentin Tarantino gave an interview to the French publication Liberation in which he lamented how movie criticism has changed over the decades.

“I hear people around me say “there are still good critics out there,” Tarantino is quoted as saying. “And I would say, who? Not being sarcastic. They would say “Manohla Dargis [the New York Times’ chief critic], she’s a good critic”. And I’d say give me three movies she liked, and three movies she didn’t in the last 8 years. And they can’t do it. Why? Because, they don’t care ! They don’t care. Ok, if there is a New York Times sitting there, they would pick it up. But that’s it. Whereas me, those writers [back in the day], I knew what they liked and didn’t, I knew their voices, their tastes.”

One of the implications, it seems, is that contemporary movie critics are less radical and more polite compared to their past counterparts.

Similarly, an article in the Telegraph last year noted:

“In Britain, the New Musical Express built a reputation for scathing reviews that lasted well into the 2010s, once publishing an article about singer-songwriter Tom Odell (a “poor, misguided wannabe who’s fallen into the hands of the music industry equivalent of Hungarian sex traffickers”) that was so harsh, it prompted an angry call to the NME’s offices by Odell’s father.

“How things have changed. To browse the review section of NME’s website in 2022 is to witness a constant flurry of fawning four-out-of-five write-ups that tend to frame every other artist as a genius, almost all songs as “cathartic”, and shy away from any criticism whatsoever of current superstars such as Beyoncé, Adele, Stormzy, Kendrick Lamar, Harry Styles and Taylor Swift. Beyoncé’s single Break My Soul, released last month, was hailed as “awe-inspiring”, described as a “post-pandemic anthem” and generally greeted as if it was a radical Donna Summers’ floor-filler from 1979 — even though it was more like a disposable jingle played during an ITV2 advert for Love Island.”

Speaking about the decision to end his career as a soccer pundit earlier this week and how analysis has changed over the years, Liam Brady told RTE News at One:

“It has to be a little bit more dull without Eamon [Dunphy] and Joe Brolly. Because they were very controversial figures and they did speak their mind. I don’t think you can speak like that on the TV anymore to be quite honest. Times have changed and you have to move with the times. I think RTÉ have done that.

“That’s not the reason I’m leaving. I’m leaving because I’m 67 years of age. I’ve done 25 years of it and it’s a good number.

“But I think the punditry that we used to have with Eamon and Johnny Giles and Bill O’Herlihy, you probably just can’t do that anymore.”

liam-brady-eamon-dunphy-and-john-giles RTE's Liam Brady, Eamon Dunphy and John Giles. Cathal Noonan Cathal Noonan


The reason for the film and music criticism examples above in what is ostensibly a sports article is to highlight that Brady’s departure is part of a wider story, the definitive end of an era, not just in a sporting sense but also culturally.

Taking an especially harsh, controversial and unorthodox viewpoint in a high-profile public setting amid the overwhelming influence of social media is becoming increasingly rare.

In March, Lachlan Markay, a Twitter user with a little over 92,000 followers at the time of writing, tweeted: “The tragedy of The White Stripes is how great they would have been with a half-decent drummer.

“Yeah, yeah I’ve heard all the ‘but it’s a carefully crafted sound mannnn!’ takes. I’m sorry Meg White was terrible and no band is better for having shitty percussion.”

It was a comment by a relatively obscure individual that gained enormous traction, and not in a good way.

The backlash saw everyone from The Roots’ drummer Questlove to Karen Elson, Jack White‘s ex-wife, weigh in and it subsequently prompted an apology and tweet deletion from the individual in question.

There are countless similar examples of social media storms, some of which have been documented in books like Jon Ronson’s brilliant ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’.

The problem, it seems, is that the availability of smartphones et cetera has meant that media is now virtually inescapable and even a person’s half-baked innocuous opinions have the potential to cause substantial ructions.

Take, for example, Dunphy’s infamous criticism about Rod Liddle running off “with a young one” prior to a Liverpool-v-Real Betis Champions League match.

Unless you were sitting down in front of the TV at the time or had recorded the show, there was no way of instantly watching it back. The vast majority of people would have heard about it second-hand or perhaps read accounts of it in the following day’s newspapers.

Its relative transience dulled its impact and meant that, back in 2005, most of these types of controversies would be largely forgotten about within a day or two.

It was only through the subsequent emergence of YouTube and Twitter that the inflammatory quip became more widely known and essentially grew a life of its own, often devoid of any real understanding of its context or the circumstances behind why it was said in the first place, as well as inspiring a parody song and countless anniversary pieces.

Nowadays, something similar happening seems unthinkable mainly because it would become an instant viral sensation and prompt a slew of apologies and significant pushback. 

So it seems fair to surmise from all the above examples that, more than ever, there is less of an appetite for the confrontational style of criticism that goes against the consensus viewpoint, or what can be described in internet parlance as ‘hot takes’ inviting internet ‘pile ons’.

Yet ‘hot takes’ seemed quite popular not so long ago. At their peak, RTÉ viewing figures showed more people were tuning in for the musings of Messrs Giles, Brady and Dunphy than the actual football matches.

And indeed, at times a Champions League match between a Premier League team and some obscure European side felt like a tame sideshow to the main event of whatever unfortunate individual the panel were intent on rigorously debating and denouncing with impressive wit and relentless fervour.

liam-brady Liam Brady pictured during his Ireland playing days. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO


Dunphy on his podcast ‘The Stand’ this week described Brady as “one of the greatest players to have played the game anywhere in the world, as great as any we’ve seen”.

It’s curious, however, that the two men eventually became great friends, and not just because of the regular intense debates between the pair during their punditry heyday.

The situation appeared even more antagonistic before Brady joined the RTÉ panel and became a mainstay of it alongside Dunphy and Giles.

Following Ireland’s loss to the Netherlands, in October 1983, Dunphy used his Sunday Independent column to single out the former Arsenal star for stinging criticism.

“Broadly speaking our players are innocent but two in particular share some of the blame for [Eoin] Hand’s failure. Liam Brady is often touted as a great player. He is nothing of the kind. His performance on Wednesday was a disgrace, a monument to conceit, adorned with vanity and self-indulgence rendered all the more objectionable by the swagger of his gait.’’

It was one of a series of critical remarks by Dunphy aimed at the player who would become an Ireland legend, as well as a key figure for both Arsenal and Juventus.

The sense of hostility appeared to be mutual.

Consider this passage from a 1994 Evening Echo article.

“LIAM BRADY says that Eamonn Dunphy’s claim that Ireland could win the World Cup was “a cynical ploy” that would allow him to savage Jack Charlton when Ireland were beaten. Brady claims Dunphy knew that Ireland had no chance of winning the World Cup. He dismisses Dunphy’s knowledge of the international game as being ‘limited.’ Liam goes on to say that the elimination of Ireland from the last 16 allows Dunphy to fire the bullets that he, not so cleverly, loaded by claiming that anything less than a place in the semifinals would amount to a serious failure. Brady certainly cut the legs from under the cynical Eamonn in an article in the Sunday Times. Brady, who has his own axe to grind with Jack, admits that Charlton has got results and has achieved an excellent record with Ireland. Eamonn is certainly savaging Jack Charlton and throwing every bit of mud at him that he can after Ireland’s defeat. Balanced people realise that Irish international soccer was in intensive care until Big Jack arrived. Without him, we wouldn’t be anywhere near the action in America. He has brought life not only to the soccer scene but also has won a place in all our hearts and well done Jack. Ignore the few small-minded begrudgers and lead us on into Europe.”


While their extremely forthright views did not make the panel popular in certain circles, it is not an exaggeration to suggest they had a considerable influence on the fate of more than one Irish manager.

leeds-united-manager-terry-venables-looks-dejected-after-their-defeat Terry Venables claims Dunphy cost him the Ireland job. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

After Terry Venables was made favourite by the bookies to become the new Ireland manager, in reaction to this news, Dunphy’s searing takedown on RTÉ cost the ex-England boss the job, at least according to the man himself.

Per Dion Fanning’s article from that time: “Venables, in an in-depth interview in today’s Sunday Independent, also attacks the FAI, accusing them of being “frightened” of Dunphy and claims that the three-man panel appointed to find Steve Staunton’s successor was merely decoration.”

When Giovanni Trapattoni was subsequently linked with the role, Dunphy gave his seal of approval, suggesting such a move would be the greatest thing to happen to Irish football in his lifetime.

Trapattoni was one of the few Irish managers that seemed apathetic about the panel’s thoughts when they soon turned against him (with the exception of Brady who became part of his backroom staff for his first couple of years in charge), perhaps because the Italian’s limited English language skills rendered him blissfully ignorant of what was being said.

Jack Charlton’s run-ins with Dunphy have been well-documented, while Mick McCarthy would be keen to find out what the panel had said after every game, with Dunphy one of the most vocal Roy Keane supporters amid the Saipan debacle.

The panel’s subsequent stark condemnations of the Brian Kerr and Steve Staunton eras arguably had an influence on their respective swift departures from the job, while John Giles has suggested he was consulted and played a significant role in the appointment of Stephen Kenny as both U21 and senior Ireland manager.

Perhaps the most notorious criticism of the trio came from Ireland interim boss Noel King in the wake of Ireland’s 3-0 defeat by Germany in 2013.

“That’s a comedy programme that they have on after every match isn’t it?” King told reporters after aspects of his team selection had been questioned by the panel. “Maybe it’s a joke but I don’t get it.”

“How many times have you watched that comedy show? It’s so old, so so antiquated. It’s a funny show and that’s what they do. I’d be disappointed if they didn’t do that. Real football people know what went on tonight.”

Martin O’Neill was similarly unimpressed with the trio’s musings.

“If I was listening at all to your punditry team, there would be little chance of us fighting back,” he said at the 2015 RTÉ Sport Awards. “But thankfully, I didn’t listen to them, and particularly a couple, who should possibly be looking for other jobs themselves now, because they get it wrong so often.”

“I’ll never forget the words of a senior executive in RTÉ Sport to us on the eve of that tournament [Euro 2016]. ‘Go easy on Martin,’ was his message. Martin being Martin O’Neill, of course,” Dunphy later wrote in his column in The Irish Daily Star.

“That was the brave new world of RTÉ Sport, even though there was nothing brave about it.”

It’s ironic that the one Irish manager the panel have been uncharacteristically forgiving, patient and sympathetic towards — Stephen Kenny — coincides with a time when two out of its three members no longer hold such a prominent platform with the national broadcaster.


‘No cheering in the press box’ is the classic sports mantra and whether you frequently agreed with them or not, Brady, Dunphy and Giles wore this attitude on their sleeve.

You could make the case that certain contemporary pundits are fairer to individual players and more knowledgeable about the machinations of the modern game.

Yet it is also surely a blander product and often the polar opposite of the ideals that the trio have consistently practised.

Just consider this passage from an article earlier this week by Michael Cox in The Athletic on how the Champions League final between Man City and Inter was analysed, and contemplate the degree to which punditry has changed in a manner not dissimilar seemingly to music and film criticism.

“[Former Man City player Joleon] Lescott took the old-school approach, believing he was employed as a former centre-back — and current England U21 assistant — to explain the thought process of a player. But what broadcasters increasingly want is a former player from a particular club who can replicate the emotions of their fans. It doesn’t matter that Lescott wasn’t a City fan growing up, that he played for two other clubs more than he played for City, or that he left City before any of the current players joined.

“By the final, Lescott understood the drill. Brought in several times throughout the game, Lescott was “more nervous than I expected” in the first half. On 82 minutes he confirmed he was “nervous, more nervous than I should be, more nervous than when I played.” On 90 minutes, commentator Darren Fletcher told him there were “people all around the UK wondering if you’re OK,” which was patently untrue. A couple of minutes after full-time, Fletcher told him to “Get yourself down there! You can’t sit up here any longer! You’ve got to be with the players of your former club!” It was never explained why.”

The state of punditry in 2023 is vastly different compared to 2003. Players, managers and club owners may welcome this development but the more discerning viewers will surely feel a little short-changed and a sense of nostalgia for the eccentric brand of authenticity epitomised by Brady and his one-time colleagues.

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