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ó Muircheartaigh rules the airwaves

A poll across the water selected Murray Walker as the greatest sports commentator of all-time.

I suppose the judges were swayed by Murray's rare ability to marry form and content as at moments of high excitement the great man's voice would take on an unmistakable resemblance to a Formula 1 engine under severe stress. The runner-up was John Motson with John McEnroe and Peter O'Sullevan filling the third and fourth places.

It set me to thinking about the possible results of an Irish poll on the subject. Chances are that Micheal O'Hehir would finish top as the man's pre-eminence as a commentator is axiomatic at this stage. Yet I can't help being sympathetic to the dissenting viewpoint of Breandán ó hEithir who criticised both O'Hehir's tendency to gloss over incidences of foul play and his tendency to commentate as though addressing an audience of invalids. But I suppose I'm missing the point about what O'Hehir meant to people.

Someone asked me a while back if I'd like to see Horslips live. I said I would, but I'd like to see them live in 1972. It's the same thing with O'Hehir, his legend is bound up with a memory of people huddled round crystal sets in a very different era and it's impossible for subsequent generations to recreate what he meant back in the days before rock and roll.

Conventional wisdom has it that Micheál ó Muircheartaigh is the heir to O'Hehir. In fact, ó Muircheartaigh is a much better commentator than O'Hehir ever was and has had no equal either here or across the Irish Sea. He'd have to come in at number one in any poll.

And as for the runners-up? I will always have a soft spot for the slightly choked tones of Fred Cogley, who seemed to suffer from a perpetual cold when he was the voice of Irish rugby back in the days before lifting in the lineout, while the nightclub singer's croon of Noel Andrews will forever conjure up being hauled out of bed at four in the morning to see Muhammad Ali in grainy action from the other side of the world. These days the only rival to ó Muircheartaigh as king of the castle is the incomparable Seán Bán Breathnach, whose Radio Na Gaeltachta commentaries turn the most banal of contests into epics in which the very future of the world seems to be at stake.

Seán Bán and Micheál have the edge over anyone the British came up with for one simple reason: Murray Walker and John Motson may be grand, but how many languages can they commentate in?

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