The Voice of GAA Hangs Up The Mic

Posted on September 20, 2010

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Thursday 16th September 2010:

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I am driving to Dublin with my mother. Although I am a CD and MP3 person, my mother insists we listen to the radio on the trip northwards so Today FM is displayed across the LCD screen.

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Ray D’Arcy is reading out texts, one of which grabs my ear and results in me nearly crashing my car. It details how the texter associates Sunday dinners with GAA and Micheál O’Muircheartaigh. The message ends with “He will be sorely missed”. It was at this point that I nearly crashed the car and my mother turned up the sound.

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Fortunately Ray clarified that the Voice of GAA had not, in fact, passed on from this world, merely hung up his microphone in favour of retirement, something no one in the country would begrudge him but yet wished they would never witness either.

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I have thus far had the pleasure of meeting the great man on two occasions: once, at an event in Croke Park detailing the GAA’s relationship with the media, in particular, the radio, which is, of course, Micheál’s first love and the medium to which he holds a great allegiance to.

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I must admit sneakiness on my part. I had asked a question during the conference that had provoked some consternation and as a result of that, ended up being approached after the event by people complimenting me on the issue I’d brought up.

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So I met a host of people that night: Marty Morrissey, Darragh Maloney (who was very insistent that I should toss my SAT-NAV out the window. I’ve since taken his advice!) Eoghan Corry, Roy Willoughby and Padhraic O’Ciardha (who was later a great help to me in writing my undergraduate thesis).

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But coming back to my sneakiness. As I was getting ready to leave, having met just about everyone I could meet, I saw Roy Willoughby chatting to Micheál O’Muircheartaigh. Deciding to say goodnight to Roy and thank him for introducing me to those around him after the event, I had a feeling he would reprise this role.

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And he did.

“Anna, have you met Micheál?”

“No Roy, I haven’t had the pleasure.”

And then I did. We spoke briefly about where I was from, what club I hailed from, my thesis and the fact that I knew probably hundreds of people who would be jealous when I would tell them about this encounter. Then Micheál asked whether I had started writing my thesis to which I replied ‘not yet’.

“Once you write the first word, you’ll have no problem after that.”

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It seemed he had some inside information – my thesis first draft came in 4,000 words over the limit.

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The second time I met Micheál was in Hayes Hotel, Thurles, a few months later on the day that Wexford would fail to beat Offaly to escape Division 2 hurling. While standing waiting to pay for my dinner, I saw him walking towards the carvery area, put up my hand and said ‘Hello Micheál’.

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Now I expected him to say ‘Hello’ and continue on. But he stopped. And then he said ‘Hello Anna.’ He continued to ask if I thought Wexford would win and remarked that ‘my clubman’ Gizzy Lyng had been hurling well.

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I couldn’t quite believe it. He’d remembered my name, county and club. I knew from the event in Croke Park that he had an uncanny ability to remember the tiniest details from matches that happened 60 years ago that maybe no one else remembered even being played. But to remember such details of a 22 year old girl he’d met once made me hold him in even higher regard – if such a thing were possible.

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It was certainly the best part of the day because Wexford were beat.

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RTE showed a brilliant documentary last night about Micheál O’Muircheartaigh, featuring interviews, archival footage and filmed footage of his movements in the commentary boxes. It’s striking to see him move so freely in such a small space, you can see the excitement and passion on his face for every game. You get the feeling that he has the best job in the world.

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The end of the championship always brings about a downer for GAA people, I believe, one that you’ll get over quickly enough because you know the league won’t be long coming around. But this year, it feels different. I’ve already written the professional eulogy for one great GAA man earlier this year (Damien Fitzhenry). This one seems even more disheartening.

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To me, it feels like the entire landscape of the GAA will change without O’Muircheartaigh’s commentary as a soundtrack. To me, it feels like the disappointment you might expect to see on a child’s face if they found out Santa wasn’t real.

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When I wrote about Fitzhenry earlier this year, it was with a disappointment that we were losing probably the best goalkeeper of the last twenty years, but that’s the nature of aging and it was bound to happen eventually. But Micheál has that timeless quality, that uncanny ability to appear immortal through the power of his voice.

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To whoever takes over the mantle from Micheál, I hope you have big feet because the shoes they’re going into are huge. Like an amateur magician taking to the stage after David Copperfield has flown around it, you think back to how Micheál took over from Michael O’Hehir and how people wondered if anyone could compare to the latter. Maybe the next guy will be as lucky.

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Personally I don’t think we’ll ever see anyone like him ever again. He remarked in RTE’s programme about hurling being an ancient game, full of the secrets of a time long forgot and a past that shaped our sporting future. In a sense, Micheál was the link from that past to the present.

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Towards the end of the programme, he suggested that All Ireland Hurling Final day should be a national holiday in preference to St Patrick’s day because: “the Irish learned how to hurl long before Naomh Padraig taught them how to pray.”

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Every so often I sit down and think about what I’d do if Wexford were to win the hurling or football All Ireland again. Where I’d be (Croke Park. Even if I had to parachute in) What I’d do afterwards (Hopefully I won’t be old enough to have to be sensible). It’s the nature of daydreaming and wishing – you play out scenarios in your head of how it might happen, how it should happen and how it probably would happen.

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One detail though always remains the same, I can always hear Micheál O’Muircheartaigh’s voice saying “Wexford have won the All Ireland!”

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I suspect when that day comes around again, I still will.

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