Historic chapter in broadcasting at an end


Yesterday’s All-Ireland football final will be remembered as much for Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh’s last commentary as for Cork’s nail-biting win

IT WASN’T quite a classic final but yesterday’s All-Ireland football broadcast by Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh must have held the listeners around the globe gripped until the very end.

There was a certain irony about the last moments:

Ó Muircheartaigh, the quintessential Kerryman, bowing out on a day of Cork joy.

“The referee blows the whistle and Cork are the All-Ireland champions of 2010,” he declared, bringing to a close a distinct and historic chapter in Irish broadcasting.

A presence on Irish airwaves since 1949, Ó Muircheartaigh found himself a participant as well as a commentator on one of the supreme days in the Irish sporting calendar.

On RTÉ Radio One yesterday morning, he talked about his All-Ireland final day ritual in an hour-long conversation with Miriam O’Callaghan.

Always the early start.

Mass, usually on Gardiner Street, and then a leisurely amble up towards the stadium. It sounded like the stuff of a perfectionist but, as his son Cormac pointed out, the reality was somewhat more chaotic.

Yesterday was probably more hectic than usual. For once, the radio man was in front of the cameras on an afternoon of small ceremonies.

Before the minor final, he was taken into the press room in the Hogan Stand. On the wall a brass plaque to honour the late Micheál O’Hehir. On the table a chocolate cake – and it takes a genuinely remarkable occasion for the GAA to lay on confectionary treats in the ink rooms.

Before two o’clock, Taoiseach and noted Ó Muircheartaigh impersonator Brian Cowen made an appearance in the press room to wish the commentator well.

Former All-Ireland winning players and managers patiently waited in turn to have him sign their souvenir programmes. And later, after the Tyrone minors had celebrated their latest All-Ireland success and the greying gods of Down’s 1960/61 jubilee team made their way from the field, the radio man stepped briefly on to the field.

“Thursday was a momentous and yet sad morning for Cumann Luthchleas Gael because the man we all love in RTÉ – our hero, our idol, our friend – has decided to hang up his microphone in a few weeks time,” fellow commentator Marty Morrissey told the crowd.

“This is his last All-Ireland final. We all love Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh.”

To warm applause, the Kerryman was presented with a framed oil canvas of Mount Brandon by GAA president Christy Cooney and, at the request of the gathering photographers, he leaped into the air not once but twice. It made a mockery of his 80 years. Then it was back up to the perch to take care of business.

On Dorset Street and on the Jones’s Road before the match, there was a novel addition to the usual hawkers of flags and rosettes. The bright entrepreneurs selling pocket radios for “Micheál’s last broadcast” were doing brisk business.

Yesterday, 81,604 people were lucky enough to attend the final and many of those were twiddling with radio receivers before and during the match.

But it was to his other audience, the one that spans continents, to whom Ó Muircheartaigh was talking. From the beginning, the match was tense and exciting and for a long period it looked as if Down’s splendid record of never losing an All-Ireland final would continue.

But Cork, heartbroken in two of the last three Septembers, prevailed in the second half by 0-16 to 0-15. Captain Graham Canty, injured for half of the summer, came into the match in the second half and played an influential role.

“I would say Cork’s best footballer of the last 20 years,” Ó Muircheartaigh said at one stage. Canty, lost in the heat of the match, could not hear the praise, but thousands of others did and it will undoubtedly be repeated to the Cork man in coming days. It will surely be music to his ears.

Ó Muircheartaigh’s gift was to make music out of hurling and football. The sound will be missed.

Afterwards, he paused for a photograph in the press box surrounded by his family. And then he left the stadium.