It’s a daunting experience preparing to interview Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh especially when you know you’re the last interviewer of what was probably a long and media filled day.
While he may not care to admit it, the man is a bonafide legend and a hero throughout Ireland.
You rack your brain trying to come up with the fresh angle and a new direction to take the conversation only to realise the minute you walk through the door that this won’t be like any of the past interviews you’ve done.
“And where would this big man hail from?” he expresses in that distinct Kerry brogue.
“Armagh,” I respond as the famed broadcaster immediately reflects on the most committed athlete he ever met, Kieran McGeeney.
“He was a great player, the most committed man I ever met. Now he got a job when the Sports Council started, he was the second employee. When Armagh started getting good in the late nineties he resigned, went down to a three-day working week and after a short time, he abandoned that, he wanted all the time for training.
“He lived in gyms, and he never looked to me like somebody that was enjoying it. It was pressure but he used it well but I don’t know if he was getting any enjoyment out of it.
“Winning was everything and I remember, he spent his life in gyms. He was captain of the Ireland team that went to Australia. I was there and they beat Australia. Now I was going out the next morning to play golf at seven o’clock with two others and Kieran was coming out of the gym and I went over to him and I said ‘oh the lads had a great night last night and you weren’t there’.
“And he said, ‘I’m playing next Sunday (club championship) and I want to be ready’.
“He was a genuine fella though, you rarely saw him smile but he softened out a bit, he’s different now, he married a Kerry woman and she changed him. He’s a decent fella but he didn’t enjoy it now as most of the other players but then again, Armagh wouldn’t have won the All-Ireland without him.”
McGeeney has been criticized alongside a host of other managers for how Gaelic football is played in the modern era.
Ó Muircheartaigh feels the skills of the game have diminished somewhat, however, he can’t help but compliment the increased level of thought that is going into Gaelic football.
“Spectators love great catching same as they love tries in rugby.
“They love the man that goes high and comes down with the ball. That’s something spectacular and you see the best of them at it. They don’t do it now with the number of high balls being caught not that many the game has altered as such.
“I’d like the skills to be kept but what has improved immeasurably is the thought that’s put it into it. It’s much better now, every player goes out to try and play the ball to the advantage of his own.
“I remember a time when your job was to get the ball and kick it as far away from yourself as possible and let the person down there do his best to win it so there’s a lot more thought in it now but the spectacle is taken out of it.”
When pressed on how it came to be this way, the former RTÉ broadcaster feels it’s down to modern-day management and that players don’t get the same levels of satisfaction they once did, while fans aren’t getting as much enjoyment.
He also feels it is time the GAA sat down to discuss the issue of making the game attractive for spectators.
“Well, I think it’s the managers, the managers decide. I know that players don’t take any satisfaction from this passing across the field, its very dull for spectators and I think you must consider spectators.
“It’s time the GAA sat down with one topic to be discussed, how to make Gaelic football more enjoyable for spectators. Spectators are ignored.
“I think the latter part of the championship this year was better there was more ball play, there was more direct attacking, so I’d be a bit more hopeful now than I’d have been a year ago.”
Ó Muircheartaigh himself kept the game attractive for spectators for half a century with his distinctive voice and penchant for memorable one-liners.
He’s also famed for his mild-mannered nature and ability to make one feel at ease. Seen as a benchmark for budding broadcasters, Ó Muircheartaigh reflects on an era for the trade that seems like an impossibility nowadays and how he took one future RTÉ mainstay under his wing.
“They don’t allow anyone into the changing rooms now and if you go in they’re all very solemn and there’d be nobody talking but when you used to go in back in the old days they used to be great fun.
“I brought Ryan Tubridy when he was starting out. He had been doing odd jobs around the place and he was mad to get into it and he asked me if he could come with me for a day, he said he wanted to be talking on the radio, that was his ambition. So, I gave him a microphone and said start talking… and nothing but silence.
“He said, ‘what will I talk about?’
“I said ‘well in radio, there is only one crime… silence. Don’t be silent, keep talking, that’s the number one rule, keep talking and let it be rubbish until you learn better.’
“He enjoyed that and then he wanted to come up to a match with me so I brought him and Meath were playing, now do you know how thin he is? He was thinner at that time.”
“We pushed through the door of the Meath dressing room and they were hard and tough, great fun, best of fun in the world and I came in the door with this fella and they’d never seen him before.
“Well Mick Lyons stood up and he shouted. ‘Where did you get Muscles?’ They called him Muscles,” laughs Ó Muircheartaigh.
Just as the interview was called to a halt Ó Muircheartaigh expressed his desire to share one more anecdote and in typical fashion, he drew the conversation to a close leaving everyone present walking out of the room in a better mood.
“Armagh played Kerry in the 1953 All-Ireland final and they got a penalty. Bill McCorry took it and he missed and to the day he died, he was pointed out as the man who missed the penalty against Kerry.
“But he didn’t mind, he got used to it. Oisin’s (McConville) mother Margaret, her brother (Gene Morgan) was playing in that final and she was only 17 years of age, I know her well. She was at the match with her brothers and her big memory waiting outside the field after the game was they all came out in a circle and they were protecting Bill McCorry in the middle.
“Then came the final in 2002, her husband was dead, Oisin her son was playing and it was a big day for her. At a certain stage in the game, Armagh got a penalty. Oisin was to take the penalty but he missed it.
“It was before half-time and she spent the whole half-time unable able to stand. She spent the whole time praying to her dead husband that their son was not going to be remembered for the next 50 years as the man who missed the penalty in the 2002 All-Ireland final.
“She prayed hard and sure didn’t Oisin score the winning goal.”
And they say never meet your heroes.
Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh was speaking at the launch of My Legacy Month 2019, an initiative encouraging people to leave a legacy gift to charity in their will. To find out more about leaving a legacy gift in your will, visit MyLegacy.ie.