The debates regarding GAA games being broadcast on Sky Sports got me thinking about my childhood and the voice of Micheal O’Hehir.
Our parents told us of visiting a neighbour’s house to hear his voice bring to life the drama of a big game on the wireless. It was a social occasion. One neighbour was put out by the fact that another household had got the wireless. There would be less visitors coming to his house.
During my boyhood days, the black and white television replaced the wireless as we were also enchanted by Michael O’Hehir. Not every house had the Tele. Those who did have the box, would rent them from RTV Rentals on Main Street.
I remember being in Bohan’s house to watch a game or a western. There could be 15 to 20 children sitting on the lino floor. Sadie Bohan would send down to Bowden’s shop for Marieta biscuits. They would be served at half time with butter oozing out of the holes and Mi Wadi orange juice to wash it down. Better than Pop Corn or Nachos. It was our mini cinema.
Michael O’Hehir commentated in my head when I played Championship games in the back yard of 31 St Brigid’s Place. Laois would beat Offaly and Dublin easily enough in the early rounds. A semi-final win against Wexford put us into a Leinster Final against Kilkenny.
A magnificent comeback would bring us to within striking distance. We trailed by 2 points. Mam would shout out the kitchen window, ‘Pat, your tea is ready.’ Time was running out for Laois. Michael O’Hehir told me, as I gained possession, that this was our last chance. The shed wall never went for its own score so a perfect hand pass to a team mate was quickly returned.
This is it! ‘Pat, I called you once, I won’t call you again.’ We’re in injury time. A ground flick to the low wall, tap lift, sidestep, short hurl, BANG!’ The ball hit the roof of the net.
The crowd erupted. ‘Laois are Leinster Champions!’ Michael O’Hehir was shouting into the microphone. ‘Laois are Leinster Champions for the first time since the days of Billy Bohan and Paddy Ruschitzko in 1949. The Bob O’Keefe Cup is going to Laois!’ I ran off the pitch for my tea. No time for presentations.
After tea, Laois were again trailing by 2 points against Cork in the All Ireland Final. I went for the top left hand corner of the net. The ball screamed over the bar and through one of the panes of glass in the bathroom window. Ball, putty, glass went flying past Dad, who was sitting on the jacks, with most landing in the bath. No injury time. Game over. That 2 point loss to Cork was the only final lost by Laois in the back yard of 31 St Brigid’s Place.
I would often slag Eileen Hayes about our All Ireland Final record against Cork, until Clare recently beat them in the Final. ‘Who has the best record against Cork in All Ireland hurling finals?’ ‘It would have to be Kilkenny.’ Eileen replied. ‘No, Eileen. It’s Laois. We beat ye in 1915 and never met ye since. That’s a 100% record in anyone’s language.’
‘Only we were getting ready for the rising in the Rebel county in 1915, we would have won that All Ireland.’ Eileen retorted with a smile.
‘Well, Eileen, if we had been getting ready for the rising instead of the All Ireland, we would have won the rising!’
The irony of the games in my back yard was that when I did finally play in a Leinster Final in 1985, it was Offaly, who we easily beat in the early rounds on the Hill, who shattered our dreams.
The 1980s was the time of the Pirate Radios. Laois Community Radio broadcast club and county games. LCR was how my elderly Granny followed our games in the farmhouse kitchen in Dysartbeigh. She loved Michael O’Hehir, but now she had her local favourite commentator on LCR, Paddy Sinnott.
Paddy was a colourful character, who mimicked Michael O’Hehir’s voice in his commentary, which he delivered with great enthusiasm, humour and knowledge. He would embellish the atmosphere and situation. At a Junior football game on the Lawn in Stradbally, he had a premonition of the Electric Picnic in his description of the crowd.
‘The crowds are streaming onto the Lawn for this game. The queues stretch all the way back to Paddy Rams as the last few die hards sink their pints of plain.’ There were 30 people at the game.
On one sultry summer afternoon, he was commentating on one of our club games in O’Moore Park. LCR had a caravan on the grass bank for their broadcast. The window was open and a wasp flew in as Paddy was in full flow. ‘John Taylor has the ball. He’s on the seventy, he’s on the sixty. There’s a wasp in the commentary box! I haven’t time to kill it! Taylor’s on the fifty he shoots. A great point from Taylor!’ All without missing a beat.
John Brophy began videoing the games and used Paddy for the commentary. He was filming a Junior hurling game featuring Ballypickas in Mountrath. John perched himself high on the grass bank and had a lead fed through the wire fence to Paddy’s microphone on the sideline.
The Wallace brothers were playing for Ballypickas. They were very skillful hurlers but weren’t the tallest players ever to represent the club. They were small, wiry and skillful and were known by the nickname ‘Knacky’.
Knacky ran to a ball near the sideline, deftly jab lifted and struck the ball sweetly over the bar. He was in earshot of Paddy’s commentary which flowed through the action, ‘And here comes the pint sized Knacky Wallace.’ After Knacky scored the point, he turned on Paddy, ‘I’ll give you pint sized!’ and Poleaxed Paddy with the hurl.
His most famous commentary was of a National League game which we played against Offaly in Rathdowney in 1982. Offaly had won the All Ireland the previous year.
As the game went deep into injury time, we led by 2 points. Paddy began summing up the game. ‘It’s a marvelous performance from the Laois team against the All Ireland Champions. Jones, Taylor, Critchley, Walsh, Fennelly, Flynn, the Bohan brothers and of course the Cuddys. A powerful display….F…k it, it’s a goal!’ Offaly scored a late goal and ended Paddy’s budding career on the airwaves.
As I drove in to town last year, I listened to a man who was giving out yards about the government on the radio. His mother was entitled to a grant for a kitchen renovation and she was waiting for ages. He finished with the remark, ‘That woman reared 10 children and this is how she’s treated.’
I met a workmate who had also heard the radio conversion. He had a different take on the situation, ‘Jaysus Pat, there’s ten of the feckers and they wouldn’t chip in together and do up their mother’s kitchen after all she did for them.’
So maybe, even if you don’t agree with the Sky Sports deal, you could chip in and get the Sky for an elderly sports fan. Better still, arrange for a visit, have the cup of tea, tell stories to the grandchildren and all watch the game together. Wouldn’t it be a social event like our parents had years ago and like we had on a lino floor in 34 St Brigid’s Place.
Our Friend from Dysartbeigh
We’re gathered here to lay to rest
One whose place of fame
Was that people not related
Called her Granny just the same
I see her still beside her fire
Where oftentimes she sat
Awaiting her next caller for the laughter and the chat
And you couldn’t leave without the tea
Ah she fussed on all but one
For she scorned our fears about her stairs
Despite being ninety one
And Lord you gave her such great faith
That made St Fintan’s fish so real
And that smile we knew was saintly
By the way it made you feel
We thought she’d live forever
But she’s still with us today
And if she could speak to us her mourners
I know just what she’d say
For in troubled times she’d sound advice
Things will always turn out fine
She was not just mother’s mother
But a friend of yours and mine
So when daffodils grow along her lane
Or a wintry sky turns grey
Relieve your troubles with a prayer
To your friend from Dysartbeigh