In the wake of Pat Spillane’s retirement, we take a look at some of the top Irish pundits, past and present, starting with the man himself…

Pat Spillane
On Sunday 24th July Pat Spillane brought down the curtain on 30 years of working on The Sunday Game. Just like his playing career, he left on his own terms when he felt the time was right. It was fitting that his last day would be watching his beloved Kerry win their 38th Senior All-Ireland title and seeing his two nephews win their first Celtic cross. An emotional Pat spoke about there now being 21 All-Ireland medals in his family. His own father had passed away before he and his two brothers won their 19 All-Ireland’s between them, so this was a special occasion for the family and the perfect conclusion to his lengthy contribution, on the field and on our screens, to the game.

Throughout the three decades, the sound of Pat’s voice became as familiar as the opening theme tune to The Sunday Game. He never hid his love for Kerry and often wore his heart on his sleeve. He was outspoken on topics he believed in – like allowing other sports to be played in Croke Park and that players shouldn’t be out of pocket for the expenses they incur to train and play for their county – and his weekly column on a Sunday allowed him to make his points which often led to a debate later in the day on the programme. He would also feel the wrath of fans of teams he criticised and there was no hiding place, especially for Croke Park games when he was in the crow’s nest just above the Nally Stand! Receiving a Garda escort in 1996 after Kerry had lost to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-final was his first taste of how disgruntled fans could respond to his columns.

There is no doubt, however, that whether you agreed with him or not – his knowledge and passion for the game was second to none and he earned a deep respect nationally, that will be hard to replace.

Jim McGuinness
When Sky Sports started broadcasting GAA matches they knew that their coverage would be scrutinised and compared to The Sunday Game. What they also knew, however, was that their technology to analyse the games would be far superior – being similar to what they use for Premier League and NFL games. The big question though, was who the analysts would be.

The addition of Jim McGuinness was very astute. Here is a guy who managed Donegal to All-Ireland glory in 2012, 20 years on from winning it as a player himself, and he was the only manager to outsmart Jim Gavin’s Dublin in his 7 years in charge in the championship.

When analysing games he often sees a gap or solution to a problem that no one else does. He is one of those pundits who speaks very clearly and never says anything just for the sake of it – what he says is worth saying and so the presenter and fellow analysts hang on to his every word. Jim also has experience of working with professional soccer teams in Scotland, China and the USA so brings a wealth of coaching insights into his analysis.

Eamon Dunphy/Johnny Giles/Liam Brady
There was no surer sign that a match was important than when the panel contained all of the above. Each had their role and there was no better facilitator to a discussion than the late Bill O’Herlihy. Eamon liked to speak his mind, had a very strong opinion that seldom changed and loved making a controversial comment. Liam, for a long time, still had a role at Arsenal so brought a current insight into how things had changed since his own day and John always listened, smiled at Eamon’s comments, and had a strong but fair opinion. Often the final word went to him as Senior Analyst.

The open-ended questions posed to the panel and the variety of topics covered always led to an entertaining programme. Liam and John were outstanding players in their day and often Eamon would use this to try and get them onside – usually when criticising a current player.
It will be a very long time, if ever, before these three (four including Bill) will be matched on Irish TV.

Roy Keane
For years Sky Sports viewers have been crying out for a pundit not to be sugar coating everything. There are such things as bad games and established English players can have poor games. However, for far too long pundits had to find and focus on a positive. Instead of critiquing poor finishing they would commend the defending or good saves from the goalkeeper.

This all changed when they added Roy as a regular on their panel.

Roy will not stand for anything less than blunt honesty – no matter who he offends – and he will challenge fellow pundits when he feels they are not telling the full story or are showing bias. His heated debate with Jamie Redknapp about the strength of the Spurs squad is evidence of this. He did not let the statement that their squad is full of Internationals be proof of strength, when the team had been playing so poorly. “Playing for your country doesn’t make you a top player. If you can trap the ball you can play for your country these days.”

While these battles are very enjoyable for the viewer they also makes pundits think about what they are saying. It’s about honest, worthwhile analysis rather than just saying safe things that won’t rock the boat or make a player or manager dislike you for what you have said.

Roy, without doubt, demands better quality from his fellow pundits, just like he did his team as a player.

Eric Donovan
With a limited amount of Boxing coverage on Irish TV we have become accustomed to hearing the thoughts and views of regulars such as Mick Dowling. During the Tokyo Olympic coverage, however, Eric Donovan was part of RTE’s panel and brought a fresh insight and knowledge to the bouts. His analysis of the Irish team and their opponents was second to none.

The potential pitfalls and areas to focus on were all explained in a very detailed and clear manner and his knowledge of previous fights to draw comparison on was impeccable. It was an absolute pleasure hearing his thoughts and a definite step up in the quality of analysis for the sport.

By Brian Cleary
Co-Founder & Director
Emu Ink Publishing