THE GERRY BUCKLEY COLUMN
Last weekend’s Monaghan v. Galway clash in the third and last round of the so-called ‘Super 8s’ (this jury is still out on the new mini-competition’s merits) was only the second time that the Farney men and the Tribesmen have clashed in the senior football championship.
The first was 80 years ago as of this day week when the Connacht champions beat their Ulster counterparts by 2-10 to 2-3 (with Kerry winning the minor curtain-raiser), and the game is very noteworthy locally in that no less an event than the All-Ireland senior football semi-final was staged in Cusack Park (sadly, well down the pecking order these days for far less important neutral games). Also very significant is that it launched the broadcasting career of the original ‘voice of Gaelic games’, Michael O’Hehir, or Micheál Ó hEithir as many recall him.
Over seven years ago, the powers-that-be in Westmeath GAA rightly acknowledged this landmark event by commissioning sculptor Mel French to erect a wonderful bust outside the Mullingar ground in honour of the legendary commentator.
It is interesting to delve through the archives and read newspaper accounts of the event. This paper’s correspondent wrote as follows:
“Two good games at Cusack Park: On Sunday last, Mullingar was invaded by Gaels from as far apart as Kerry and Antrim. Monaghan had a representative following with them from all over Ulster. It was easy to know the marked Northern accent. On the other hand, one found a marked contrast in the voices of the Kerry men and the men of the West, who were also interested in the minor game. Some 12,000 people passed into the park which was in excellent trim and was well looked after by a big body of stewards.
“Amongst the GAA officials attending were Mr P O’Keeffe, General Sec; J Fletcher, Chairman Dublin Hurling Board; Rev Fr Delaney, Chairman Westmeath Co Board; Mr Dan Leavey, Capt. P Cowan, J Garland etc. Kilbeggan Boys’ Band was in attendance and Clara Pipers’ Band played the senior teams on to the field. Mr Ratty, Meath, refereed the minor match and Mr T Culhane, Limerick, refereed the senior game.”
To my surprise, given the much smaller coverage allocated to our national games in bygone eras, the Irish Independent of August 15, 1938 has a piece on the fledgling commentator:
“One of the youngest, if not the youngest, of radio commentators is Micheal Hehir, a Dublin boy, who made his first broadcast yesterday, when he gave a description of the All-Ireland football semi-final at Mullingar, which was relayed by Radio Éireann.
“Micheal, who is aged only 18, has always had a keen interest in broadcasting and, by his commentary yesterday, he has realised one of his greatest ambitions.
“A short time ago, he told an Irish Independent representative last night, while he was ill, he listened to a commentary on a game in which he was interested.
““I did not like the commentator,” he said, “so I wrote a letter to the broadcasting authorities saying I thought I could do just as well myself. When I had it written, however, I did not post it and left it lying around. About a month later, I found the letter and thought I might as well send it away.
““A few days after I had sent it, I received a request from Radio Éireann asking me to take part in a test in Croke Park. As a result of the test, I was chosen to give the commentary on today’s game at Mullingar.”
“During the commentary, he used the plan of the field published in the Irish Independent. “I found it very useful, he said, “and was very glad to have it.”
“Michael is the son of Mr Seamus Hehir, Junior Hurling Board representative on the Co Dublin Senior Executive.
“He was educated at the Christian Brothers’ Schools, North Richmond St, Dublin and a keen hurler. He is a member of Croke Hurling Club.
“He will make another commentary next Sunday on the other football semi-final between Laoighis and Kerry at Croke Park.”
Micheál, of course, went on to become a living legend in this country, not just for his unique radio commentaries on football and hurling in pre-television days, where his use of words such as ‘schemozzle’ has remained in Gaelic games parlance to this day - nowadays, multi-angled cameras show clearly how much of a schemozzle has arisen - but also for his horse racing expertise. Who will ever forget his calm and accurate description of Foinavon’s sensational Grand National win in 1967?
Sadly, a stroke deprived him of reaching a landmark 100 All-Ireland final commentaries in 1985. I recall with great poignancy his wheelchair-bound visit to Mullingar a few years later. He died on November 24, 1996, aged 76, and this columnist has consistently felt in the intervening 22 years that with all the GAA personnel bandied about as potential names for new cups, that it is a shame that a Micheál Ó hEithir Cup has never surfaced.
There would be some schemozzle to win that trophy!
Tom McCormack RIP
Last Saturday afternoon, just moments after the euphoria of witnessing the Irish ladies’ hockey team qualifying for the World Cup final, I received the deeply upsetting news of the death of Tom McCormack. Truly, it put sport into its proper perspective.
Tom was a classmate of mine in St Finian’s, where his academic and sporting prowess was carried with trademark modesty and humility. He was a passionate follower of The Downs in his schooldays. Ironically, only last week I spoke to a former black and amber team-mate of his of Tom’s deep upset, in an era when technology was less advanced, when I (as a day pupil who had been at the game in Navan) landed back for compulsory evening study and told him (a boarder waiting for me at the walls of the college for the result) of his beloved club’s hammering by St Vincent’s in the 1973 Leinster club final, a few months before we both sat the Leaving Cert.
An eminently decent man - in every meaning of the word - Tom went on to have a distinguished career in the public service. Indeed, his unfailing financial support (under the auspices of FÁS) to this fledgling - if middle-aged - sports journalist at the turn of the millennium helped me enormously to produce my initial Gaelic games book on Westmeath. I never, ever forgot his conscientious financial and moral support. And never will.
I extend my heartfelt sympathy to his wife and lifetime soul mate, Margaret, and all other family members.