HomeFootballIreland says farewell to Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, ‘bard of the ballgames’

Ireland says farewell to Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, ‘bard of the ballgames’

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When the time came for Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh to leave the field and discover if there are Gaelic Games in the afterlife, Ireland mourned a radio broadcaster who for half a century had been the voice of sport.

Sadness at news of his death on Tuesday at the age of 93 swiftly alchemised into a celebration of a singular ability to paint pictures with words, lyricism and wisecracks that made the nation laugh and entered folklore.

“Death may have won its final game with Mícheál, but for all who love Gaelic games, he is immortal,” said the Irish Daily Mail’s tribute. “It was that playfulness with words, and elegance with imagery, that marked him out.”

Ó Muircheartaigh commented on Gaelic football and hurling for RTÉ over six decades. Such was his ­following many viewers would mute the television to listen to Ó Muircheartaigh’s radio commentary. His wry, deadpan observations became famous and were repeated last week in ­tributes that filled airwaves and column inches.

“Seán Óg Ó hAilpín: his father’s from Fermanagh, his mother’s from Fiji. Neither a hurling stronghold,” was a favourite. So too was: “Teddy looks at the ball, the ball looks at Teddy.”

And also: “Here’s Sylvie Linnane, who drives a digger on a Monday and turns into one on a Sunday.” Plus: “Anthony Lynch, the Cork corner-back, will be the last person to let you down – his people are undertakers.”

And: “Teddy McCarthy to Mick McCarthy, no relation. Mick McCarthy back to Teddy McCarthy, still no relation.”

Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh with his twin grandsons Eoin, left, and Liam Wilkinson of Gaelscoil Bhrian Boroimhe Swords after a match with St Brigid’s BNS Killester at Croke park, Dublin, in 2019. Photograph: Matt Browne/Sportsfile/Getty Images

It wasn’t just one-liners, Ó Muircheartaigh wove slice-of-life tales into the commentary. “I saw a few Sligo people at Mass in Gardiner Street this morning and the omens seem to be good for them,” he told listeners during a Sligo-Dublin game. “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.”

Another one: “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 ye wouldn’t have the Kerryman, would you?’ To which, the Egyptian behind the counter turned to me and he said, ‘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.”

Ó Muircheartaigh was born in Dún Síon near Dingle, County Kerry, and upon attending an Irish language school changed his name from Michael Moriarty to the Irish version. In 1949, RTÉ used a hurling game at Croke park to audition him, and 10 fellow trainee teachers, for a commentating job.

Ó Muircheartaigh had never seen a hurling game before – Kerry favours football – but by fluke knew one of the goalkeepers who made a spectacular save and scored a penalty during Ó Muircheartaigh’s five-minute slot, gifting an opportunity for dramatic, knowledgeable commentary.

The father of eight went on to become RTÉ’s premier radio commentator, or as some put it a “bard of the ballgames” who laced matches with humour and whimsy.

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“The stopwatch has stopped. It’s up to God and the referee now. The referee is Pat Horan. God is God,” he once said.

“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!”

Ó Muircheartaigh could seemingly braid any anecdote with on-field action. “Pat Fox out to the 40 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.”

GAA clubs provided guards of honour as Ó Muircheartaigh’s funeral cortege wound through Kerry. The funeral was in Dingle on Saturday.

The taoiseach, Simon Harris, said the broadcaster was a link to a diaspora that tuned into him from around the world. “His voice, his colour, his excitement, his love of sport, his turn of phrase were often as exhilarating as the action he was describing on the pitch as the audience held its breath for what Mícheál would say next.”

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