Turning a passion for sportswriting into a career is never easy, so the Soccer Writers’ Association of Ireland (SWAI) do their part each year to help give aspiring journalists a lift in the right direction.
By Gareth Maher
By setting up the Brendan McKenna Memorial Award – in honour of the former FAI media officer and Evening Press journalist – in 2008, the idea was to provide third level students with an insight to the world of Irish soccer journalism.
The competition has gone from strength to strength and last year received a record number of entries, aided by the endorsements of Brian Kerr, Pat Fenlon, Richie Sadlier, and Rebecca Creagh, and the judging panel had a tough decision to make.
Ultimately the award went to UCD’s Jamie Headon. So we decided to catch up with him to reflect on why he entered the competition, his experience of it, and what happened after he won.
How did you first come across the Brendan McKenna Memorial Award and what got you interested in it?
I can’t remember what newspaper it was in, but I first came across the award whilst reading an interview with former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr. He was at the official launch of the Brendan McKenna Memorial Award in 2013 on the day of that particular interview, so there was a mention of the award at the end of the article. I had been covering Leinster Senior League games for thejuniorsoccerportal.info for a couple of months at that stage and saw the award as a potential opportunity to establish a foothold in sports journalism.
What was the process of writing the article like? Did you do much research, speak to many people, re-write it a number of times?
I keep a close eye on all levels of Irish football so I suppose I would have had some good insight into a lot of the different developments that were occurring at the time of writing the article but I still had to do a bit of reading up on the topic, be it reading old articles or just searching the web. That was particularly important in giving the article some factual basis with the figures I used.
What was your big hope from entering the competition?
As I mentioned earlier, mainly to gain some kind of foothold in the sports journalism industry and in particular, the football journalism industry.
Once you discovered that you had won, how did it change things for you?
Winning definitely gave me that bit of extra encouragement to keep trying to build up a good portfolio, but it also maybe gave me a little bit more of a push to go seeking new opportunities in the industry. The award is very well respected and seemingly drew a lot of entrants so I felt it gave me more credibility when going to people to find new platforms to develop my writing further.
What was the experience of shadowing a national football journalist at a Republic of Ireland game like?
It was a real eye opener just as to what a top football journalist’s duties are on an international match night. If you ask most people what a journalist does at an Ireland game they’ll just say they write a match report and maybe get some post-match reaction. I would have been the same up to that point but that night I saw it’s not necessarily that way at all.
I was shadowing Mark McCadden from the Irish Daily Star and he had three tasks for the night having just come from an Under 21 game in Tallaght earlier that evening. The first was to write an analysis of how Ireland fared in attack with captain Robbie Keane absent on the night, the second was to grab some post-match interviews, while the third was to speak with Pat Dolan about his column for the next day’s newspaper. He had a very tight deadline to have these pieces completed by so it really gave me a sense of the kind of time pressure attached to the job.
What have you been up to since winning the competition?
Just trying to get as much writing experience under my belt as possible. I spent a lot of last summer and some of my recent Christmas holidays on work experience with the Irish Daily Star who have been very helpful and encouraging. I’ve had a number of articles across a range of different sports published with them, which is obviously good for my portfolio.
On an ongoing basis, amongst other things, I’ve been writing for ExtraTime.ie since the start of last season and I’m also contributing feature articles to shamrockrovers.ie where I conduct a fan flag feature and most probably bore a lot of other Hoops to tears with pieces waxing lyrical about Rovers legends like Liam ‘Rasher’ Tuohy and Jimmy Dunne. More recently, I have taken up the position of sports feature writer with Campus.ie where my focus is very much on third level sport.
Do you believe entering the competition strengthened your chances of becoming a football journalist?
Without a doubt. I would say it has definitely opened some doors for me. For instance, I would think having the award stood to me when I approached the Irish Daily Star looking for work experience. Likewise, I was told by Campus.ie editor Ryan Nugent that the article which won me the award was a major factor in them offering me the position of sports feature writer.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no illusions as to the competitive nature of the sports journalism industry, particularly at a time when the media world is experiencing a period of radical change, but I would hope some day I will look back on the award as something that set in motion a sequence of events that led to a career as a football journalist.
If you are a third level student and interested in entering this year’s competition, send an article (1,000 words max) on any football subject to firstname.lastname@example.org before March 10th 2015.
*Image courtesy of Sportsfile