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Ó Muircheartaigh looking forward to Ulster Allstars

Veteran broadcaster Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh (right) is this year's special guest at the Irish News Ulster Allstar Awards
Niall Gartland

THE special guest at Thursday’s Irish News Ulster Allstar awards is someone who needs no introduction to GAA fans, young or old.

In a career spanning six decades, veteran broadcaster Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh became known as the voice of Gaelic games - and five years after his retirement, his status within the GAA community remains undiminished.

The 85-year-old Kerry man began his commentary career with RTÉ in 1949 and, while he expressed gratitude at being asked to Thursday’s event, his wealth of experience and encyclopaedic knowledge makes him an obvious choice.

“Well, it’s very nice to be asked because these celebrations have become a very big event – I find there’s interest in it all over the country because Ulster is, by far, the strongest province in Gaelic football,” Ó Muircheartaigh said.

“You couldn’t say at the beginning of the year who will win the Championship – it could be any one of maybe six counties. In this century alone, you had Tyrone and Armagh winning an All-Ireland for the first time, nothing like that happened in any of the other provinces.

“Would you believe the last time a county won the All-Ireland for the first time in Munster was Kerry in 1903, the last team in Connacht who won for the first time was Roscommon in 1943 and Offaly in 1971 in Leinster, so Ulster is way ahead.”

Ó Muircheartaigh also reminisced on the widespread changes that occurred within the GAA during his career.

“I’ve seen a fantastic development in facilities, not just in the main places like Croke Park – which compares with everything I’ve seen anywhere in the world – but also in club facilities," he added.

“I often give as an example, some time in the 1970s centenary year was coming up and the first man I heard speaking about it was the late Paddy Buggy [GAA president from 1982-1985]. He said all clubs were told to make sure you have dressing rooms with running water and try to have an enclosed pitch for the centenary - there was hardly any dressing room in the country that had running water and most club pitches were not enclosed.

“But just look at the facilities now, with 1,500 clubs all over the country, and that’s the way it should be.

“The coverage that Gaelic games gets is another major change. Look at the newspaper business – the All-Ireland final of 1947 was played in New York. Only one journalist from Ireland was present – Mitchell Cogley from The Irish Independent. The Irish Press, The Irish Times and The Examiner did not send any. It was a big venture, maybe thought by some as too expensive and all that, but if an All-Ireland was to be played in New York next year, there would have to be a special plane to bring all the journalists.

“I saw Rule 21 disappear, which was another great change, times are totally different, there have been a lot of very, very positive changes.”

The Dingle native has also witnessed a major shift in how Gaelic football is played. While some of his fellow county men have lamented the way the game has gone, Ó Muircheartaigh is accepting of the changes, albeit with a caveat.

“In a way, every generation has the right to play it the way they think it should be, they shouldn’t be strictly bound, but I lament the passing of high fielding,” he said.

“There’s a lot of thought that goes into football now, you now have nutritionists and advisers of all types, but maybe managers have too much say in how the game is played – not every player would agree with the way the team plays but, then again, I suppose you need a consensus.”

Ó Muircheartaigh has kept busy since stepping away from the microphone. He made his acting debut in June in a TG4 docudrama about the Battle of Waterloo, but it's obvious where his true passion lies.

“That was just a one-off - it was very interesting, but it couldn’t compare with watching a good football or hurling match”.

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