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Eoghan Corry: A true master of his art who stood astride the generations

Broadcasters have sometimes been described as the new bards of Ireland. We certainly hold them in higher status than most professions. Gay Byrne became the most recognisable face and voice of his generation. The outpouring of grief which followed the death of Gerry Ryan would be envied by any politician.

The reaction to the announcement of Micheal O Muircheartaigh's retirement is a benchmark of sorts. It is unlikely any other sports commentator will ever achieve the stature that Micheal did.



Longevity

Part of this is longevity. He strode the bridge between the age of radio -- he started his career in 1949 when many listeners still required wet and dry batteries to power up their sets -- and the TV age more easily than his employers.

During the 1960s RTE thought it acceptable to employ the same commentator for the radio and TV services. Micheal proved the infinite superiority of radio when it was utilised properly, to the extent that hundreds of thousands of people turn down the sound on the television each Sunday to listen to his commentary of the game.

His impact in society was deep. The GAA has a huge following but a somewhat contentious relationship with urban Ireland.

At times of stress, and there were many, over Rule 21, over access to Croke Park, and other issues, the soft tones of its chief commentator was instrumental in knocking the edges off that relationship.



Liberal

His liberal views helped. Having grown up in an Ireland of exclusions, he does not agree with bans or exclusions of any kind. But he kept his view away from the heat of the official GAA debating forum. The voice of the GAA was always a voice acting outside of the GAA.

His big sport and his little sport (greyhound racing, for which his love may have been greater again) were elevated by his presence to reach a forum well beyond the natural.

O Muircheartaigh has served many functions, not least that indicated by Taoiseach Brian Cowen at his infamous drink-in in Galway on Monday night, any easy subject of every amateur impressionist in the country.

He served as part of the act for mainstream comedians as well. His critics picked up on his failings and his reluctance to tell the score, and he was clearly uneasy with the introduction of player analysts to sit alongside him in the box.

The secret? His easy manner helped. In conversation, he can leave an entire room departing feeling that they have a personal friendship with him.

The accent, which would render him unemployable on AA Roadwatch, cut through all social and linguistic barriers like a knife.

His disregard of social convention helped too, famously in his interview with Edward Windsor, son of the queen of England, whom he addressed as "Prince" through the interview (he explained that is what they would have done in the Kerry of his childhood, where they had lots of princes and never a "Your Royal Highness").

His ease with words helped too. He became the aural version of John B Keane, Con Houlihan, Bryan MacMahon, Sigerson Clifford and all the great wordsmiths that Kerry seems to produce in an assembly line that goes back to St Brendan.

His ability to make the switch from English to Irish in mid-sentence without losing a listener will be the subject of linguistic studies for decades to come.

Above all he had something that every man, woman and child could identify within a minute of hearing him for the first time. Passion is an overused word, and passion was all over his work.



Streaker

He told the story of each game as if it was the most enjoyable thing he had ever seen, and sometimes it was; as when a streaker invaded the Leinster hurling final of 2003. He would stop in mid-sentence to tell other stories, of the players and their progeny, to name Damien Fitzhenry's 15 siblings, to name the authors and critique the work of the Annals of the Four Masters in mid-play during the 1992 All-Ireland final, and to send greetings to the man who made tea for the referee, Paddy King, when he was ill.

The greatest sporting stage in Ireland, Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, was reduced to a kitchen conversation with which everyone could identify and everyone could participate.


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