Some broadcasters become synonymous with their sport. Murray Walker will always be associated with Formula One. Peter O'Sullivan is the voice of horse racing, while Sid Waddell's unique style means that a darts tournament is not the same without him. For the many GAA followers in Ireland and abroad, Micháel O'Muircheartaigh fills a similar role. His excited tones have conveyed the pitch action into homes the length and breadth of Ireland, and several fans prefer to watch the game on television, while listening to his commentary on the radio.
As assignments go, interviewing O'Muircheartaigh is probably one of the easiest. He is extremely open with his opinions and is happy to chat away as though he's known you for years. He could not be described as controversial but he is still prepared to speak out about areas where the GAA needs to do more. One of those areas is around the abuse of alcohol. Pointing out the GAA is a “community-based association”, he regrets the fact that “celebrations are always built around drink”. He stops short of advocating a ban on sponsorship from drinks industry (“I don't think the sponsorship effects it in any way”) but does think the GAA should be creating an awareness of the dangers of alcohol abuse, while they have access to the young people of Ireland. He would seem to have a point here – last year's Garda report states that 20% of juvenile headline offences are drink related.
A cause particularly close to the broadcasters heart is the promotion of the Irish language. Born Michael Moriarty, his time at Coláiste Iosagáin in Co. Cork left him with a love of Irish that he never lost, and it was there that he decided to use the Irish version of his name. On the evening I spoke to him, he was invited to attend the inauguration ceremony for President Mary McAleese. While expressing respect and admiration for the President, he had to decline as he had a prior arrangement at an Irish school in Galway, which he helped to set up, and which was celebrating its tenth anniversary. Anyone familiar with his style knows that he likes to add a cupla focail [Editor's note: couple of words] to his commentary, and he feels that the GAA should be more active in promoting our national language. “Most Irish speakers are involved in one way or another with the GAA – even as supporters. GAA clubs should consider an 'Irish night' once a week, when business is conducted through Irish. This would not require any classes, but would give people an opportunity to use what Irish they have, and build their confidence”.
His love of the Irish language and his appreciation of his roots might give the impression that Micháel O'Muircheartaigh is a conservative within the GAA. Not so. Throughout his life, he displayed a healthy disregard for the ban on attending foreign sports, and today he firmly believes that the GAA should open up Croke Park to non-GAA sports. Echoing the words of the Minister for Sport, John O'Donoghue TD, he says that it would be a “patriotic act”. “When you have something like that, you should let the world see it”, he says. “It would encourage visitors to the country and would be a useful brand image for the Irish tourism industry”. He draws parallels between Croke Park and the MCG in Melbourne, which has also been restructured significantly and has drawn additional visitors to that city.
I put it to O'Muircheartaigh that the GAA was in competition with other sports for the attention of Irish sports fans. Surely opening up Croke Park would be giving them assistance they didn't deserve? His reply showed his love of Gaelic games – “The biggest asset the GAA have is that their games are innately good, attractive, skilful & entertaining. They do not have to fear competition. Gaelic games give great value to the public, and have been accepted by them not from any nationalism or promotion, but for the games themselves. They have stood the test of time.” He again emphasises the fact that the GAA is “part of the community” – “Many Kilkenny people can claim to have spoken to DJ Carey or to know Henry Sheflin. How many people in Manchester can claim that they have spoken to Roy Keane? GAA stars are ordinary people who are not being shunted out of your way by minders”.