George Hamilton: The Voice of a Nation
He’s soldiered with the Republic of Ireland football team through thick and thin. And as the team grew in might and skill so did Hamilton.
But there was an element of luck in his ascension to the lofty heights of football commentary as his appointment on the Ireland beat coincided with the arrival of Jack Charlton as men’s senior team manager.
“In a way it fell into my lap,” said Hamilton, who had just returned from a stint with the BBC in England when it all worked out for him.
“It was a wave to be surfed. All those iconic moments like Ray Houghton's goals in Stuttgart and New Jersey, the lines like ‘a nation holds it breath,’ you can’t plan for those moments, they come to you. I've been very fortunate to be around when the football team came of age. It's been a terrific journey, the places I've been, the things I've seen and the highs and lows. It's been great.”
A Queens University graduate, opportunity first knocked for Hamilton at the BBC where he started out in rugby and learned his trade. His first visit to the then Lansdowne Road was to cover a Five Nations game between Ireland and Scotland in 1974, but fast forward four decades and it’s like his second home.
The Aviva Stadium is actually more than a place of work for Hamilton. He loves coming to the home ground of the Irish football and rugby teams. Getting into his car and driving to the stadium still fills him with excitement and anticipation.
He likens it to being a player. Walking through the doors of the press room, meeting and greeting his long-time friends and colleagues, finalising his notes and then walking the last few steps to the commentary position...he loves every moment of his match-day routine.
But the work starts long before any ball is kicked. Preparation is vital; the last thing he wants is to read a line in the newspapers after the game that he should have had. So when Martin O'Neill names his squad a couple of weeks out from a game Hamilton will get to work. He will research players, compile information and make detailed notes.
Of course, the landscape is very different for media now than it was when Hamilton first started working with the Ireland team.
His first assignment was for the World Cup in 1978, RTE were in need of an additional commentator so they called Hamilton and he headed off to Argentina. It was a tricky assignment, but it went well for him and when it was over he was offered a job by the national broadcaster.
In those early days there was a close connection between players and the media. They travelled together, often socialised together and regularly built up friendships. For Hamilton that wall that has been erected between players and media has been the biggest change for him in his job. Trust has diminished and friendships are non-existent. There is no longer that close connection between the media and the squad.
But the football is still the same and Hamilton loves it. Ever since he watched his Dad play for Cliftonville as a young chap he’s been hooked. As for commentary, in ways he is a connoisseur and knows what it takes to master the art.
“A good commentator has to have a voice, there's no point trying to be someone who doesn't sound right because you are only going to offend the listener or the viewer. So that has to be the starting point they have to sound ok," he states.
“Radio and television are very different. Radio is a very personal medium, it's only your voice no pictures. When it's pictures your voice compliments them but on the radio it's you and the listener.”
And while there are plenty of people who would love to talk about football matches for a living it’s a tough gig that requires plenty of skill and intuition. When Seamus Coleman suffered his horrific leg beak against Wales back in March, Hamilton had the presence of mind to deal with what was a very difficult situation live on air with complete professionalism.
There have been plenty of good days for Irish supporters and hopefully there will be plenty more. And no doubt Hamilton will be there as company for supporters every step of the way for some time to come.
This article will appear in the Ireland v Austria Official Match Programme. Make sure to pick up the ultimate match souvenir, which features an exclusive column by Keith Andrews, profiles of the opposition, a four-page Kids Zone section and much more.