'It's in the title. It's a song for everyone in Ireland' - The Sunday Game's cover of a Dubliners classic

Kildare supporter Dan McCabe collaborated with the RTÉ GAA show to pay tribute to frontline workers.

Dan McCabe singing A Song For Ireland.
Dan McCabe singing A Song For Ireland.

THE SUNDAY GAME producer Rory O’Neill was having his habitual scroll through Youtube when he came across a voice that sounded good.

“A raw and special talent” was how O’Neill described the Kildare-born singer Dan McCabe while speaking to The42 earlier this week. He decided to reach out to McCabe with a proposition to collaborate on a song, something to honour Ireland’s frontline workers during the Covid-19 pandemic while also incorporating a GAA element into the piece.

They settled on the Dubliners classic A Song For Ireland, and published the music video on RTÉ’s social media channels earlier this month. What they came up with has evoked a powerful reaction, with over 200,000 views garnered on the RTÉ GAA Twitter page at the time of publication.

RTÉ’s flagship GAA programme has undergone some necessary changes since its recent return. In the absence of live hurling and Gaelic football matches, the Sunday Game’s usual format has been shelved for now with classic games coming in to keep the GAA conversation going.

The 2020 edition of the show is heading for episode three this weekend, and despite the revamped content, the programme has continued to engage with the public. The trailer for the new season — put together by RTÉ producer Elaine Buckley — triggered a huge reaction among viewers. 

That was followed by a significant interview with GAA president John Horan where he explained that games are unlikely to return while social distancing remains in place.

Former president of the association, Seán Kelly, questioned the GAA’s position in this regard in another important interview on last week’s instalment of The Sunday Game.

“I suppose it’s all very new,” O’Neill said this week about the ongoing task of keeping the show fresh and relevant for the audience.

“The thrill of watching The Sunday Game or the match, that’s not really there anymore for people. You’ve got to get it into your head to have something new to offer the viewer.”

In addition to dealing with those challenges in his day job, O’Neill discovered the vocal stylings of McCabe. The healthcare worker has had a passion for singing and performing from a young age and has been posting covers of famous songs online for over a year.

“I rang him up and asked if he’d be interested,” says O’Neill about contacting the talented Kildare man. “I gave him a few tips in terms of how to record in terms of video. He recorded the piece of music and sent it into me.”

O’Neill complemented McCabe’s beautiful rendition of A Song For Ireland with some stunning pictures of frontline workers in action, along with some iconic GAA figures who have passed away.

We’re thinking about the clubs, the front line and that’s what the GAA is meant to represent,” says a proud O’Neill days after the release of McCabe’s cover.

“It’s meant to be a family and that’s probably what resonated with the piece, and why it struck a chord with so many people. I’m just delighted for him.”

As for the performer, he’s still adjusting to the newfound fame that this project has brought to him. McCabe, who previously kicked ball with the Two Mile House GAA club, has been working at Naas General Hospital since the outset of the coronavirus epidemic. 

He inherited the singing bug from his father while his friends began pointing out his ability to him at around the age of 14. It was from that point on that he knew he wanted to perform on the big stage.

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McCabe has done plenty of gigs over the years while also singing at various events and local concerts, but he considers getting a platform on the national broadcaster to be “a dream come true.”

McCabe knew this version of A Song For Ireland would be well received but never envisaged the volume of applause his performance would eventually get.

“It’s in the title itself,” says McCabe about why he chose this iconic folk tune.

It’s a song for Ireland, for everyone in Ireland. It was that kind of thing I was going for.

“I’m a big Kildare fan. I haven’t been playing much for the last couple of years, just on account of the music and that kind of thing. I have a child now as well so I’m pretty busy trying to find a balance with that.”

McCabe’s Dubliners cover was a unique side project for The Sunday Game to pursue during the coronavirus lockdown.

john-horan GAA President John Horan was interviewed on The Sunday Game earlier this month. Source: Tom O'Hanlon/INPHO

The programme, widely recognised as an Irish institution, has been running for 40 years. The production team never feared that The Sunday Game would be scrapped entirely for this year but the length of the show has been trimmed down from two hours to 90-minute episodes.

Some sports have returned to our screens recently, including the Bundesliga where games have been hosted behind closed doors. To prepare for the possibility of GAA games returning at some point in 2020, O’Neill has been looking at how TV channels are broadcasting those games in Germany.

For now though, the objective is to keep a reconstructed Sunday Game on the road during unprecedented times.

“It’s important for us as a national broadcaster to create some semblance of normality and give the impression that virus or no virus, the Sunday Game is going ahead,” says O’Neill.

And who knows with the way the numbers are panning out, the Sunday Game might be in a position before the year is out to get back in action and show some live sport.

“But I think in terms of what we have at the minute, we’re just trying to create a programme that’s reflective of the times we live in.”

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