So, has it always been rugby with you?
Not at all. I went to Coláiste Chríost Rí in Cork and GAA and athletics were my first loves.
I was a member of Leevale Athletic Club. I ran cross country in school and Marcus O’Sullivan was ahead of me – in every sense.
He was about two or three years older. Kieran O’Regan was in my class. He played for Brighton in an FA Cup final against Man United and for Ireland.
Tony Nation was in my class, so was John Kerins, the former goalkeeper, God rest him. Tony Leahy as well, probably one of the greatest schools footballers I ever saw.
It was a real Cork sporting upbringing, I played a bit of everything. I was from Ballinlough and played soccer with Glasheen and Douglas Hall, ran athletics, played a small bit of underage rugby, played street leagues hurling with Blackrock and football with Nemo.
When did rugby first really start to take hold with you?
I didn’t take sport seriously so I didn’t play it to any high level. I was bitten by the rugby bug growing up. You could walk down ‘Pana’ on a Saturday afternoon and the Five Nations would be on in a shop on Patrick Street called RTV Rentals.
There might be 200 people on the footpath watching the match. You listened to the likes of Jim Sherwin, Fred Cogley and those people.
I thought then ‘jeez, I’d love to give this a crack’. That’s where it started and I’d inherited the ability to talk from my mother.
Where and when did the broadcasting start?
I was working part-time in multi-channel television in Cork with Trevor Welch. We used to do a sports programme. Trevor did the soccer, because that was his first love, and the GAA. I was lumped with basketball and rugby and every other sport basically. That’s how we divided it up.
So when did the commentating start?
In the mid to late 80s – I’m really showing my age now – I got a job working full-time with RTÉ Cork. Cork Local Radio was a regional, opt-out station at the time and they had a sports programme Saturday and Sunday between two and six in the afternoons.
Pat O’Donovan was producer and he said to myself and Pat McAuliffe, who was there as well, that Cork Con were playing AIL and we should cover it.
Pat said to Pat McAuliffe: ‘On the basis that you know nothing about rugby, Michael should go to Temple Hill’. That’s how it started.
What makes a good commentator?
The ability to talk, obviously. I got that from my mother, but the ability to paint a picture in somebody’s head as well.
I have had letters from the National Council of the Blind on behalf of people saying how the job you do allows people to see the game through the radio. That’s the greatest compliment you can get. A sharp mind as well. It’s not physically tiring, but it is mentally taxing.
So, the essence of live sports radio hasn’t changed?
No, it hasn’t. The only thing that has changed is that the radios have gotten smaller. You still have to have the ability to get the message across and not everybody has access to the match on TV.
You have taxi drivers and people in shops or out walking. People who live abroad. I did the women’s match in Swansea last weekend and we had people getting in touch to say they were listening in Ottawa, Canada. That kind of thing. The old wireless hasn’t changed at all.
What’s the most common thing people give out about?
I’m not stupid enough to think that people listen to the entire match. You may be listening to it all or you may be tuning in for 20 minutes and that’s why I hear people complaining we don’t give out the score enough when in fact it’s given out nearly every two minutes. Then you have someone complaining that you give out the score too much.
What game(s) stand out from your career so far?
The Grand Slam in 2009 stands out. We’ve only won two Grand Slams and I was commentating for one of them and then the manner in which the match was won… I did the World Cup final in 2003 as well when England beat Australia.
I did that with John Langford and, unlike the BBC who had two commentators and a summariser, it was me and John Langford for the entire match and we were wrecked by the end of it.
Are there any gaffes or incidents that stand out?
It became a YouTube sensation afterwards and it was Ronan O’Gara’s drop goal against Northampton. I lost my voice – and lost the run of myself too. People put the Muppet Show stuff onto that and there was something like 150,000 hits.
It went all over New Zealand, everywhere. The bizarre thing is you can spend the entire week preparing and going to training, building up relationships with fellas, reading the Scottish newspapers all week but if I use 10% of that, it’s an awful lot.
The rest I can’t keep for next week because it’s all out of date. I could probably do a game without the notes in front of me but I wouldn’t challenge myself that way either.
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