MICHEÁL O Muircheartaigh may have announced his retirement at the age of 80 yesterday but the man born in Dun Sion just outside Dingle is showing no signs of slowing down.
All-Ireland final week is a hectic one at the best of times but he put aside some time yesterday to reminisce about a broadcasting career that has spanned 61 years.
His first assignment for RTÉ was an all-Irish commentary on the 1949 Railway Cup final on St Patrick’s Day.
The world has changed almost beyond comprehension in the decades since. So, too, has the GAA but O Muircheartaigh eschews the great events when looking back on the progress of time.
“The greatest thing in all that time has been the improvement in facilities around the country, said Micheál, “and I’m not just talking about Croke Park or Thurles. You go to any club around the country and there are showers, fantastic pitches, lights in many of them and it is all based on local pride and a community spirit.”
While he has been broadcasting commentaries in English since 1956, he also covered All-Ireland minor semi-finals and finals ‘as gaeilge’ on RTÉ television for over 25 years from the inception of tv coverage in 1962.
When the legendary Micheál O Hehir retired from broadcasting in the mid-1980s, O Muircheartaigh took over as RTÉ Radio One’s premier commentator.
O Muircheartaigh has visited hundreds of clubs in his own era as the voice of Gaelic Games and, though the memories of those visits linger in parishes across the country, it is his presence pitchside that defines him. It is a career that is almost impossible to squeeze into one short chat but he does his best when asked about the games that stand out from the thousands he has described.
“There have been a lot of them but I would say the game between Derry and Down in 1994 when Derry were All-Ireland champions and Down beat them and went on to win the All-Ireland.
“I would also say the All-Ireland semi-final in 1977 (between Dublin and Kerry). If you look back at it now there was some bad football played in it but it was memorable for the sheer uncertainty of it. That was a game Kerry lost and they lost another game I would always pick out: the 1982 final – it was a fine game.”
So, too, was the game that turned out to be his last commentary in an All-Ireland hurling final and he has no hesitation labelling the recent Tipperary-Kilkenny tie as the finest he has seen. “The sheer level of hurling from Tipperary and Kilkenny was incredible, the competitiveness, the intensity and the uncertainty over who would win until near the end. And there wasn’t a dirty stroke.”
He will sign off after the International Rules Series next month but only after running the rule over this weekend’s football decider between Cork and Down. And after that? Well, it seems O Muircheartaigh will be taking the Gay Byrne approach to his retirement. Not for him the pipe and slippers approach.
“I haven’t really decided yet. I have never been short of things to do.”
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