When pundits aren't awful

RTE, Ireland's state broadcaster has blanket coverage of the World Cup, covering every match live on TV and online, with added highlights programmes and radio coverage. While so far the quality of the football hasn't exactly been spectacular, the entertainment provided by the studio 'panel' has been as interesting as ever.

Bill O'Herlihy has been anchoring football coverage for RTE since time began. One day he might be feeling a bit provocative, and gladly stirs things up between the team; the next day he feigns cluelessness and apathy; and then sometimes he's just clearly bored by it all. Despite his cheery, Humpty Dumpty style of anchoring, Bill is well-researched, which is more than can be said about some of the pundits.

In addition to Bill we have the three wise men: Eamon Dunphy, Johnny Giles and Liam Brady. Giles and Brady need no introduction; both legends of the game on both sides of the Irish Sea, they bring a wealth of experience and knowledge of the game to the table.

Neither Giles nor Brady is afraid to speak his mind and neither sits on the fence. (They wouldn't fit on it anyway, what with Shearer & Co clinging on to it for dear life.) Frustratingly though, both men sometimes don’t do their research and laugh off their ignorance of certain teams or players. As a result, it can be difficult to take them seriously.

But it's Dunphy who calls the shots, despite a playing career that's nowhere near a match for his fellow wise men (released by Manchester United, he played for York, Millwall, Charlton and Reading). The ghostwriter of Roy Keane’s autobiography, he alternates between intelligently discussing football one minute to just winding up as many people as possible - both in the studio and those watching at home - the next.

Dunphy is equally loved and reviled by viewers who have gotten used to outrageous comments. Like when discussing Sergio Ramos: "A nothing player, he's Paul McShane on steroids" or referring to Ronaldo: "He'll never be a player as long as he has a hole in his arse."

One thing that all three panelists have in spades, however, is a genuine love for football, real passion that hasn't dwindled or been watered down throughout their combined 140 years in the game. That's what makes them so interesting and enjoyable to watch.

They don't try to sell us anything and they don't make excuses for players or teams who aren't performing well enough. If a game has been cr*p they say so; they know we're all gluttons for football, so regardless of the standard, chances are we'll just keep coming back for more. Just like they've been doing all these years.

Over the last few years RTE has been grooming younger Irish pundits, some with outstanding playing careers behind them (Denis Irwin, Ronnie Whelan), others not so outstanding (Kevin Kilbane). The results have been mixed.

As befitting his style as a player, Irwin's work has been reliable and unassuming with flashes of brilliance; Kilbane has been more of the same. Whelan, on the other hand, sometimes tries too hard to be controversial, often coming across as a bit of a moaner instead. According to his comments ahead of Uruguay's win over the hosts on Wednesday evening, he also seems to think Diego Forlan plays for Sevilla. Maybe he knows something we don't.

Sadly, I can’t see these three taking over from Dunphy, Giles and Brady in the future.

As well as the Irish influence on the panel, Graeme Souness has been a regular for RTE over the past few years, often covering Champions League games on Tuesday nights ahead of working for Sky on their Wednesday night coverage. Comparing his contributions to both is like comparing the work of two completely different personalities. On Sky, alongside Jamie "this a top, top game" Redknapp, Souness is restrained; on RTE he's much more forthright, honest and aggressive.

Unfortunately, his comfort with expressing himself led to an awkward gaffe ahead of Serbia vs Ghana when, while discussing Nemanja Vidic, he made reference to him being "raped" by Fernando Torres before stopping himself and using the much more restrained "torn apart". After a brief on-air apology from Bill's anchoring understudy Daragh Moloney, the broadcast continued.

Another former Liverpool midfielder offering his insight for RTE during the World Cup is Didi Hamman. Despite his funny accent, it's impossible not to take him seriously. With some previous experience on German television, Hamman has settled into his role with ease. He has a no-nonsense approach and does not suffer fools gladly.

Having played in a World Cup final as recently as 2002, his experience adds an extra weight to his analysis and while he's more restrained in his criticism than Dunphy or Whelan, he's not afraid to speak his mind. During half-time analysis of Greece v Nigeria he suggested Sani Kaita should never play for the team again after his red card.

Hamann has been well versed on the teams and players, as well as being articulate and astute in his observations and has been an excellent addition to the team, proving to be a big hit with the media and viewers alike.

Another jewel in the RTE crown is the Après Match team, three comedians/impressionists who perform live sketches after most broadcasts, making fun of the pundits, the coverage on other channels and current affairs.

So the next time your blood is boiling while watching so-called ‘experts’ earn their money for very little work, I suggest you look up Après Match on YouTube to calm yourself down. Actually, search for RTE football analysis there too, see what you're missing...

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