The story we tell today is of a man from the world of sport, the world of the GAA in particular yet his reputation transcends that of sport alone and has become over the years a much loved and admired national treasure. I speak of the one and only Micheal O’ Muircheartaigh.

Believe or not Micheal is in his 80th year and will be celebrating that milestone birthday come August next- when the 2010 hurling and football championships are reaching their climax. Thus he has become the voice of summer with his stirring commentaries slipping effortlessly from Bearla to Gaeilge, from commentary of the game itself to amazing anecdotes which have achieved legendary status.

Back in the heyday of Micheal O’ Hehir of the 50’s 60’s 70’s the then voice of the GAA, most reckoned he was irreplaceable but waiting in the shadow of that great man there soon emerged the modern day colossus of sport commentary. So to mark the 80th year of this truly remarkable man let’s have a look at his story.

From Dun Sion to Croker

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh was born on August 29 1930 in Dún Síon (as opposed to Cnoc Sion!) just outside An Daingean/Dingle. He was christened Mícheál Moriarty and was the fourth child in a family of eight. Like many homes in Ireland at the time Ó Muircheartaigh’s house contained no radio. His earliest memory of listening to a match commentary was at a neighbour’s house in 1939. From that point on he was fascinated by the radio and the voice of Micheál O’Hehir in particular.

Ó Muircheartaigh grew up on the family farm and was educated locally in Dingle. In September 1945 he began studying at Coláiste Íosagáin in Baile Bhúirne in the County Cork Gaeltacht where he was in training to be a teacher. It was at this all-Irish school that his name changed from Mícheál Moriarty to Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh. In September 1948 he began the final year of his teacher training at St. Patrick’s College in Dublin.

Broadcasting Career

In early March 1949 Ó Muircheartaigh, along with ten other students from the college, and several from other colleges, did a test commentary on a hurling game at Croke Park. Each student had to commentate for five minutes in Irish and the most successful would be selected for further commentary work. Ó Muircheartaigh had never seeing a game of hurling before in his life. But he knew that those adjudicators judging his commentary were not able to see the game. So the bold Micheal who knew only one person, the UCD goalie, a lad from Dingle, who had picked up the hurling because his father had been posted to Cork and Tipperary during his youth gave an inspired/imaginative account of the proceedings – the rest is history! Ó Muircheartaigh was the one selected and his first assignment was to provide an all-Irish commentary on the 1949 Railway Cup final on St. Patrick’s Day.

He graduated from St. Patrick’s College a little later and also completed a Bachelor of Arts degree from University College Dublin. He taught economics, accountancy and Irish in both primary and secondary schools throughout Dublin. He continued teaching up until the 1980s, when he became a full-time broadcaster with RTE.

For the early part of his broadcasting career Ó Muircheartaigh commentated on Minor GAA matches as Gaeilge. He also replaced the legendary Micheál O’Hehir when he was not available to commentate. Eventually when O’Hehir was forced to retire in the mid-1980s Ó Muircheartaigh took over as the station’s premier radio commentator. He developed his own inimitable style of commentary and his accent is unmistakably that of a native Irish speaker. He is a true lover of the GAA and it is reflected in the infectious enthusiasm he brings to matches. His unusual turn of phrase has made him a much loved broadcaster and often imitated character. He has become legendary in Ireland for his unusual turns of phrase in the heat of the moment while commentating. In 2004 he published his autobiography, ‘From Dún Sion to Croke Park’.

Never Lost for Words

Legendary quotes from the great Micheal:

* “1-5 to 0-8…well from Lapland to the Antarctic, that’s level scores in any man’s language”.

* “Pat Fox has it on his hurl and is motoring well now … but here comes Joe Rabbitte hot on his tail …… I’ve seen it all now, a Rabbitte chasing a Fox around Croke Park!”

* “He grabs the sliotar, he’s on the 50……he’s on the 40……he’s on the 30……. he’s on the ground.”

* “Seán Óg Ó hAilpín…. his father’s from Fermanagh, his mother’s from Fiji, neither a hurling stronghold.”

* “Teddy McCarthy to John McCarthy, no relation, John McCarthy back to Teddy McCarthy, still no relation.”

* “Colin Corkery on the 45 lets go with the right boot. It’s over the bar. This man shouldn’t be playing football. He’s made an almost Lazarus-like recovery from a heart condition. Lazarus was a great man but he couldn’t kick points like Colin Corkery.”

* “In the first half they played with the wind. In the second half they played with the ball.”

* “Setanta Ó hAilpín….the original Setanta from the old Gaelic stories was ten foot tall, had ten fingers on each hand and ten toes on each foot but even he couldn’t be playing better hurling than his namesake here today.”

* “… and Brian Dooher is down injured. And while he is, I’ll tell ye a little story. I was in Times Square in New York last week, and I was missing the Championship back home. So I approached a newsstand and I said ‘I suppose you wouldn’t have the Kerryman would you?’ To which the Egyptian man behind the counter replied ‘do you want the North Kerry edition or the South Kerry edition?’. He had both, so I bought both. And Dooher is back on his feet…”

* “Anthony Lynch, the Cork corner-back, would be the last person to let you down – his people are undertakers”

* “Teddy looks at the ball, the ball looks at Teddy.”

* “Pat Fox out to the forty and grabs the sliothar. I bought a dog from his father last week. Fox turns and sprints for goal. The dog ran a great race last Tuesday in Limerick. Fox to the 21 fires a shot, it goes to the left and wide… And the dog lost as well.”

* “I saw a few Sligo people at Mass in Gardiner Street this morning and the omens seem to be good for them, the priest was wearing the same colours as the Sligo jersey! 40 yards out on the Hogan Stand side of the field Ciarán Whelan goes on a rampage, it’s a goal. So much for religion.” Amen.

Go Maire Se Cead!