Sunday 17 December 2017

Gallant Micheal voice of the nation

The Voice is about to retire. Micheal O Muircheartaigh is calling his last All-Ireland. Micheal has a standing army of at least a million impersonators. His imitators range from the little boy entertaining the car from his booster seat, to a Taoiseach on a night out.

What a sonorous and unique voice it is. Full of the kindly cadence of the west with an assonance all of it's very own. The flow trickles and torrents. English spoken in Irish. Sixty years or more in Dublin and his accent is as unadulterated and true to his native Kerry as it was the day he left. You can take the boy away from the west, but you can never take the west away from the boy.

That's what Micheal is -- an 80-year-old boy.

Yes he is a boy, the boy who commentates to himself as he boots the ball up against the gable wall.

"O Muircheartaigh has it. The first octogenarian to play in an All-Ireland final is 50 out, 40 now. He passes the 30-mile-an-hour speed limit. Micheal shoots. Gooooal for Kerry."

There were dark winter Sundays when the hailstones spat like machine gun fire against the window of the car and the wipers were as useless as a pitchfork against the tide. Micheal shortened journeys in the days before bypasses were ever invented. He turned dreary league games into two act dramas.

Humour

The Voice somehow told you this was the most important match ever but then, through his humour, that it was still only a game.

A small dog escapes on to the pitch. "A terrier has been sent on by Cork to take a bite out of Nicky English. He'll never catch him. Terriers have short legs. The selectors should have brought on a greyhound."

Micheal's style was to praise and in that way you knew someone unnamed must have being playing badly. I think that's why we love him so much. He is a good and kindly man who preserved the players' dignity.

Micheal looks for the good in everyone.

I suspect too that advancing years liberated him. He was a teacher with a young family, back in the days when teachers were fired by priests for writing 'dirty books,' now considered to be masterpieces.

Micheal wasn't confrontational. He probably wouldn't have been given the job in these times when the vivisection of young players and older managers is encouraged, yet he did come out in favour of the opening up of Croke Park to 'foreign games' soccer and rugby.

Unlike many of the sportsmen he commentated on, Micheal got out while he was still on top. And at 80 that's some achievement. I suspect he wants to spend more time with his family, who have settled all over the globe. I think, and I haven't asked him, that this was the main reason he retired.

No doubt the great man will give his all again tomorrow in what will be his last All-Ireland final as a commentator.

Will he crown Cork or Down?

This will come as a great shock to many of you and may well lead to my expulsion from Kerry, but I hope Cork win. They drive me mental on game days, but I have had so many good nights out with the Rebels that I just have to cheer them on and wouldn't it be lovely to beat them as All-Ireland champs next summer?

Cork have scored only 1-9 in both of their most recent All-Ireland finals and that tally is not going to win tomorrow. Down are nearest to Kerry in terms of style. They are on the small side and I think they might have too much pace for Cork. We came to the conclusion in August that there wasn't much between the four semi-finalists and this will be a close one.

I would start Colm O'Neill and I hate having to say this, but playing Graham Canty may well be a huge risk. He is one of the finest players of his generation, but Graham has been carrying an injury all year. Canny McCartan will put a runner on him.

Improving

Cork might have to come back from an early deficit and it could be that Nicholas Murphy and O'Neill will be brought on earlier than planned. Murphy is the best in the land on his day and he will change the game, but Down are improving. Improvers win All-Irelands.

Liam Sheedy made his annual pilgrimage to Listowel Races and he fancies Cork. So too does former manager Billy Morgan. Who am I to disagree with two Gaelic games geniuses? At 8/1 the draw might not be such a bad bet, but refs don't make draws out of games anymore. There was a time when a game had to be won by at least two points, like in tennis.

The draw will be worth millions to the GAA, but more importantly, we would get another All-Ireland out of An Guth Aoibhinn.

I have met so many people over the last few days who will miss Micheal's Sunday sermons from the mount of Clones, or on rickety scaffolding in some place the buses don't stop, or high up in the stands in Croke Park, nearer to heaven than any preacher.

He's us isn't he? Irish in the best possible sense. The prototype who never fitted into the mould. He is all of us, but uniquely himself.

Micheal's last All-Ireland. We can hardly bear the thought of it. We'll retire the wireless like they do with the jerseys of the greats. This week the tears of a nation are spilling out over the top of the reservoir.

And if I was asked to describe Micheal in just one word it would have to be "gallant".

Irish Independent

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