Joanne O’Riordan: Meeting Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh outshone even Messi

You might carry on water or score the winning point in an All-Ireland, but your role is just as important

It was all the way back in January in a small function room in Cahir House Hotel, where the Tipperary ladies football senior county champions Cahir were gathered, all in anticipation of a day of motivation, inspiration, nutrition and team bonding.

January is always a month where lives are changed, resolutions are enforced and life as we know it starts to change... that is until January 21st, when, according to research, 80 per cent of us have already accepted failure and reverted back to old habits.

So, on January 6th, sitting in front of Cork captain Ciara O’ Sullivan, Kilkenny hurling nutritionist Martin Murphy, European boxer Shauna O’Keefe, Cahir credit union manager Melanie Cleary and little old me was a young team led by stalwarts Roisin Howard, Aishling Mooney and Aisling McCarthy.

Manager Jim Halpin had one order – for everyone to commit themselves for the year, and the rest would come. Sure enough, his prediction was accurate.


On September 23rd, a whole eight months later, the team did just that and more. That Sunday afternoon, on a scoreline of 3-7 to 2-12, captain Aoife Casey lifted the county trophy over her head. Amazingly, Tipperary Ladies Football were also on hand to donate €3,200 from the gate receipts to South Tipperary Hospice in memory of Rachel Keneally.

The thing that I admire most about the Cahir team is the relentless hunger to churn out title season after title season. The club is only 20 years in existence but is churning out superstar after superstar, from Aishling Moloney, Aisling McCarthy and Roisin Howard, to underage stars such as Roseanna Kiely and many more.

Raise standards

The sheer desire to be the best and to continue to raise standards is admirable. In all honesty, they asked me to provide inspiration for their county success, but really, that club and those girls and women are the inspiration for me.

The weekend of inspiration didn’t stop there. All the way back in January/February, I was asked by IT Tralee to assist with a fundraiser to help out with a new sports facility they were building. The idea of the sports facility was to create an environment for people of all abilities to come together, and, through learning and sports, knock down the barriers for people with disability.

So, I liked the idea, but the selling point for me was that Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh had put his name to the cause, and there would be a gala tribute dinner (not a testimonial because, in his words, he’s not dead) where the money raised would go towards the final parts of the project.

For me it was a complete turning point in sports and disability. For too long sports and disability either had a charitable vibe about it or else people would turn the athletes into a form of inspiration porn. I get everyone takes inspiration from different places, but in my mind these athletes were not to be viewed as icons who you show to your child when your child misbehaves.

They are not there to make anyone feel bad and remind you we can do so much without very little. That’s life. Some people are born into situations and they get on with it and become gold medallists. Some people don’t. It doesn’t make anyone any more or less than the others.

Light up a room

That being said, this gala tribute dinner allowed everyone to seek inspiration from an 88-year-old man with a Google memory and a personality and aura that could light up a room.

I’ve met Lionel Messi, I’ve met Jogi Low, and I’ve seen the pope and Justin Trudeau. Believe me when I say that Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh outshines all those in every capacity.

As a young girl growing up it’s weird being into sports because primarily your idols were men because you didn’t see female athletes like you do now. What was even stranger for me is that I didn’t idolise an athlete or a coach or anyone like that. My idol was Mícheál.

I always had it in my head that I was going to be a commentator or a sideline reporter, but I always wanted to be like Mícheál.

I was well aware that I wasn’t able to kick a ball – no horror there – but being a part of sport is about more than kicking a ball. From the people who cook the food before/after training, wash the kits, hand out bibs, organise tactics, gather stats, to the fans in the crowd who are as immersed in 30 people kicking a ball around the pitch, sport shows just how easy it is to embrace differences and encourage everyone with all abilities that they can also participate.

You might carry on the water, or you might score the winning point in an All-Ireland final, but at the end of the day your role was just as important and vital in your team’s success.


The past weekend has provided me with more inspiration than any time I’ve attended inspirational summits. Because what I learned this past weekend should stick with everybody – it does not matter what your resources are, it does not matter how or where you were born. What matters is the team behind you. What matters is how you all come together and contribute the best of what you have.

For me attending the gala tribute dinner for Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh for the IT Tralee Foundation and heading down to Tipperary to watch Cahir climb a ladder was truly the most satisfying weekend I’ve ever had.

To use Mícheál’s words in an interview back in 1998, it is the involvement and taking part that is the greatest thing.