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Tributes to broadcaster O'Herlihy

Published 25/05/2015

One of Ireland's best-loved broadcasters, Bill O'Herlihy, has died aged 76.
One of Ireland's best-loved broadcasters, Bill O'Herlihy, has died aged 76.

Heartfelt and emotional tributes have been paid to one of Ireland's best-loved broadcasters, Bill O'Herlihy, who died suddenly aged 76.

The sports anchor, public relations chief and political strategist was described by friends and colleagues as a decent man, sharp journalist and national treasure.

Affectionately known to the nation as Bill, his career began in current affairs and he went on to carve out a niche in television.

He will forever be remembered for marshalling straight-talking pundits John Giles, Liam Brady and Eamon Dunphy and heralding some of the most momentous occasions in Irish sport.

Sympathies flooded in from the world of sport, politics, journalism and PR to wife Hilary and daughters Jill and Sally.

Dunphy, one of those often provoked and chastised on air by O'Herlihy, held back tears as he paid tribute to his friend's skill at making sport accessible to millions over decades.

"I think he made a great contribution to the happiness and understanding of sport, to the happiness people derive from sport," he said.

"That is the essence of a good journalist - you make people want to engage with the subject. You don't make it obtuse, you don't make it something technical. You render it human. To do that requires great skill."

O'Herlihy attended the Irish Film and Television Awards last night and died at his home.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described him as a national treasure.

"On a personal level, Bill and I have been good friends for many years and I will miss his friendship and support. He was the quintessential decent, kind and generous Irish man," he said.

John Delaney, chief executive of the Football Association of Ireland, struck the same note.

"A true national treasure, he was a fantastic journalist and interviewer, who made a unique contribution to Irish sports journalism. I have known him for over 20 years. We offer our sincere condolences to his family, his wife Hilary, and his daughters Jill and Sally."

The FAI said the flood of tributes on his retirement showed the high regard he was held in by the Irish public, and his colleagues at RTE.

Born in Cork, Bill O'Herlihy became a journalist at 16, writing for the Cork Examiner.

The broadcasting legend's CV included ten World Cups and ten Olympics.

His first on air for RTE was a piece commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania off the Cork coast for Newsbeat in 1965 and he later worked on 7 Days.

In 1973, he stepped into public relations and founded the O'Herlihy Communications Group which since merged with Insight Consultants.

In 1979 O'Herlihy co-presented the first Sunday Game with Jim Carney and he went on to lead soccer coverage up until his retirement last night.

His style was unique, combining skill, wit and good humour with the fiery and opinionated analyses of Giles, Dunphy and Brady.

Former Liverpool player and German international Didi Hamann, a more recent addition to some of RTE's flagship soccer coverage, added his sympathies.

"Terrible news that Bill O'Herlihy has passed away. Outstanding presenter and even better man. Honoured to have worked with him. RIP Bill," he said.

Noel Curran, director-general of RTE, said: "Everyone in RTE is devastated.

"Bill O'Herlihy was a giant of the sporting and broadcasting worlds in this country. His contribution to broadcasting was utterly unique."

Mr Curran added: "He never hid his emotions on those big occasions, from disappointment to utter joy, and for this he was greatly loved.

"But he was also a fantastic broadcaster and interviewer, getting the very best out of his interview panels and provoking debate and insight, and for this he was also hugely admired."

Insight Consultants, which O'Herlihy Communications merged with, said they we re "deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected passing of our dear friend and colleague".

"An award-winning public relations professional and broadcaster, he was always there to support and mentor his staff," the company said.

"Bill was our friend and made a huge impact on all of our lives. We will miss him greatly."

O'Herlihy was also a respected figure behind the scenes in politics and worked on Fine Gael strategies.

A series of the party's ministers offered their sympathies and glowing tributes.

Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture and Defence, said he was deeply saddened and shocked by Mr O'Herlihy's death.

"His popularity was evident in the response to his decision to retire last year. I got to know Bill well on a personal level and he was one of the warmest, most generous individuals that I've ever met; always offering advice and insight in a thoughtful way," he said.

President Michael D Higgins said: "Bill was the face of Irish sports broadcasting for several decades and his rapport with sports fans all around the country was legendary, especially as part of the panel which he chaired for major soccer competitions.

"Extremely professional in every detail of his work and knowledgeable in his endeavours; however, it was his unique capacity for humour which he used to connect with diverse audiences, which made him so special."

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