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Mícheál Ó hEithir’s first broadcast

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GOOD commentary is essential for sports coverage on radio.
The radio commentator becomes the eyes of the listener, able to paint accurate pictures of what is happening on the field. Their importance was proven in the early days through an unfortunate mistake by Clareman, Canon Hamilton. In the dying seconds of the 1936 Kerry V Cavan All-Ireland football semi-final, he announced a point for Cavan and declared them the winners. This led to great celebrations back in Cavan. Unfortunately, the referee disallowed the score and blew for full-time. Kerry won the replay.
Ireland led the way in the world of sports broadcasting. PD Mehigan’s commentary on the All-Ireland semi-final between Galway and Kilkenny on August 29, 1926 is believed to be the first ever sports commentary on a field game in Europe. Others followed but the name that mainly comes to mind in the history of GAA is that of Mícheál Ó hEithir.
Ó hEithir was born into a staunch GAA household. His father, a native of Ballinacally, trained Clare to win the 1914 All-Ireland and trained Leitrim to win the 1927 Connacht title. Ó hEithir showed his Clare connections when he followed his commentary on Clare’s hurling league win over Kilkenny in 1977 by saying, “There’ll be bonfires in Paradise tonight”.
As a schoolboy, he wrote to Radio Éireann asking for an audition. He was given five minutes to do during the first half of a league match but he was so good that he was asked to do the entire second half.
He brought GAA games to the country. Neighbours gathered at whatever house had a radio to listen to him. He had the ability to paint vivid pictures of events on the field, although maybe he didn’t do so all the time. Serious rows were not fully described but his famous phrase was “a schmozzle in the square” whenever the ball “dropped in around the house”. He commentated on 99 All-Ireland finals; illness prevented him from covering his 100th.
His most noteworthy commentary was the 1947 All-Ireland between Cavan and Kerry played in New York. Radio Éireann had booked telephone time to relay the commentary back to Ireland. The transmission was due to end at 5 o’clock but as the time approached, it was obvious that the match would not be over. Mícheál pleaded that he be left on air so that the end of the match could be relayed to Ireland.
“If there’s anybody along the way there listening in, just give us five minutes more,” he said. He continued with his commentary not knowing whether he was being relayed or not. Somebody was listening and the circuits were kept open until the match ended.
He was a well-known commentator on horse racing and regularly did part of the commentary on the Grand National where he covered from Beechers Brook to the Canal Turn. In the Foinavon National of 1967, he spotted and named every horse that came to grief and named the 100/1 outsider as he came away from the fence on his own.
Micheál Ó hEithir, commentator supreme, did his first full commentary on a GAA match  from Cusack Park, Mullingar when Galway defeated Monaghan on August 14, 1938 – 72 years ago this week.

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