Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s “unique voice” will never be replaced in the GAA

Tributes paid to legendary commentator after death at the age of 93

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh commentating
Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, assisted by his daughter Doireann, commentates on the 2010 All-Ireland SFC final between Down and Cork, his last match after a career lasting 61 years (Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s “unique voice” will never be replaced in the GAA according to former Derry coach and fellow radio broadcaster Adrian McGuckin.

Ó Muircheartaigh died in hospital in Dublin at the age of 93 on Tuesday, sparking a flood of tributes to the Kerryman who was the voice of football and hurling on the radio for generations of supporters.

GAA president and former Armagh footballer Jarlath Burns led the tributes to Ó Muircheartaigh, who commentated on games for RTÉ from 1949 until his retirement in 2010, saying every player “wanted to hear him say our names”.

McGuckin, a long-time co-commentator with BBC Radio Ulster, enjoyed a front-row seat to Ó Muircheartaigh’s work behind the microphone, and said it was “a privilege” to be there.

“Mícheál was an iconic journalist and an iconic broadcaster and I don’t think the GAA will ever be able to repay him for what he did for it. He had the most unique voice, everybody could relate to it,” said the Ballinderry man.

“In my time doing co-commentating with the BBC we always seemed to be sitting beside him and it was a privilege to be there. Just a tremendous man and he shoes will never be filled again.

“I remember sitting up in the broadcast area in Croke Park or Clones or wherever it was and one of his daughters would be acting as his assistant, and seeing the amount of stuff and research he had written out that she was passing it along to him. He could take all that on and pass it on through his commentary.

“He had such a flow of one phrase to the next and one piece of information to the next. He was just brilliant.

“The Ballinderry club had a gala event in 2004 and he came as a guest speaker to it and we were all in awe of him and the memory he had and knowledge he had of our club and all clubs in Derry and in Ulster. He was absolutely unique. It’s just so sad that after a long life he’s gone but, my God, it’s a life well lived.”

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh
Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh began his broadcasting career in 1949, while still a teaching student

Ó Muircheartaigh was born in Dún Síon, near Dingle in 1930. His break into broadcasting came when, while a teaching student in St Patrick’s College of Education in Drumcondra in 1949 he was successful in an RTÉ Radio audition searching for occasional Irish-language commentators. The test was a hurling match between Dublin sides UCD and Faughs at Croke Park, the first time he’d ever seen the sport played. Less that a fortnight later he was commentating in Irish for RTÉ at the Railway Cup final, his first game in a more than six-decade career with the broadcaster.

For the first half of that he maintained his teaching career, only becoming full-time with RTÉ the early 1980s. Following Michael O’Hehir’s retirement in 1985 he became RTÉ Radio’s primary commentator, with his final match Cork’s win over Down in the 2010 All-Ireland football final.

Former Irish News editor Noel Doran recalled another Down All-Ireland related event that year while paying tribute to Ó Muircheartaigh. “Mícheál epitomised all that is best about Gaelic games and was also an absolute gentleman in every regard,” he said.

“When we organised a special event at Stormont in 2010, to mark the 50th anniversary of Down’s historic first All-Ireland win against Kerry, he delivered an address which could only be described as mesmerising.

“His status was at the same level as the greats of the GAA, but he still spoke to practically every guest that night, knew their clubs as well as all their connections and dealt with them as his equals. There will never be another Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh.”

Pieces of his commentary have passed into folklore among football and hurling supporters, while a video of him making a ham sandwich, shot by the Irish Times in 2015, has amassed almost a million views on YouTube. His lunch-making technique, from his distaste for packaged ham to his preferred cutting method – “bread was never meant to be triangular, it was meant to be square, like a good field” – only adding to the canon of the Kerryman’s man’s most memorable lines.

While those lines could include stories about Sligo supporters at Mass, or buying a greyhound from former Tipperary hurling star Pat Fox’s father, and wove tales about players’ family backgrounds into the events on the field, they were never at the expense of bringing the listener to the heart of the action, understanding that as a radio commentator he occupied a special place as the eyes of transfixed supporters across the world.

As well as a fellow broadcaster, McGuckin found himself as one of those transfixed supporters on countless occasions.

“After Michael O’Heir it was Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and you were just always delighted that it was him doing the commentary,” he said.

“The phrases he had and the sayings he could come up with seemingly off the top of his head were just something else. He had you on the edge of the seat and laughing your head off at the same time. He’ll be forever loved in the GAA community.”

Meanwhile, Armagh GAA is in mourning after the death on Tuesday of Sean McCann, who was the public address announcer at the Athletic Grounds and other grounds in the county for more than 30 years.