Lovers of Gaelic games all over the world will be saddened by the news this morning that the peerless Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh has, at the ripe old age of eighty, finally decided to call it a day. This coming Sunday’s All-Ireland football final will the last one he’ll do the radio commentary on, although he will also cover the international rules matches in October before hanging up his microphone for good.
Mícheál is, and always will be, far more than a commentator – he’s nothing less than a national institution and his melodious voice, going full belt over the airwaves during a championship match, has long been an essential part of the Irish summer. We all knew this day would come some time and, as he’d already celebrated his 80th birthday, it’d be more than a little selfish to want the great man to go on much longer. And yet we know that Gaelic games commentary will truly never be the same again once he’s gone.
Maybe it was a premonition or something but I alternated between the TV and the radio to follow this year’s titanic All-Ireland hurling final and although this meant I ended up listening to rather than watching most of this awesome struggle, in Mícheál’s company you never felt like you were missing a stroke. Sure, I could have seen it all for myself on the telly but having to put up with Ger Canning (poncing on about players such as Chaw Fitzpawtrick and Pawedrick Maher) sent me scurrying back time and again to Mícheál’s mellifluous ministrations on the radio.
I met the great Mícheál twice – well, in the sense that a blundering loon of a supporter accidentally comes into contact with a living legend from time to time. The first was upstairs in the old Hogan Stand at Croke Park prior to the 1985 All-Ireland semi-final with Dublin, where I was somewhat dismayed when he, quite sensibly (though, as it turned out incorrectly – that was the drawn game) tipped the Dubs to win that day. The second time was just a few months ago, following our league win over Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh and what struck me about him then was how young he looked – he could have passed for seventy and it would have been easy then to think that he was good for another decade in the commentary box. On both occasions, he was charm and good manners personified and not the least bit put out to be doorstepped by yet another starstruck member of the public.
Tributes are obviously flowing in this morning for Mícheál (and there are plenty of Mícheálisms knocking about as well) but I especially liked this one from John O’Mahony:
He transcended his position as a commentator. In an era when relations between the press and sports people can be an issue, it was never an issue with Micheál. His love of Gaelic football and hurling was there for all to see and hear and he was loved all over the world as well as at home.
Every person in the GAA has their favourite memory of Micheál. Personally, I remember the final few moments of Leitrim’s victory in the 1994 Connacht final when Micheál described how not only were Leitrim people in Croke Park and Leitrim people all over the world watching this but Leitrim people were watching from the veranda of heaven. Micheál is truly the only person who could commentate to anywhere in this world and beyond!
Anyone wishing to pen their own tribute to Mícheál can do so via email to RTÉ – they’re putting a selection of those received on their website.
To celebrate his 80th earlier this year, Mícheál scaled Mount Brandon so he’s obviously still in fine fettle and, one hopes, will have a long and happy retirement ahead of him. Having entertained and informed countless numbers of listeners down the years, that’s the least he deserves. Thanks for all those wonderful memories, Mícheál.