In order to give an insight to a typical working week for an Irish football journalist, Tony O’Donoghue provides a behind-the-scenes view of covering Martin O’Neill’s first week as Republic of Ireland manager.
My Week by Tony O’Donoghue (RTE)
Covering football for RTE Sport, Television, Radio, News and Online means there is no such thing as a typical week, but there is a pattern, particularly around the Republic of Ireland squad. But this is how it all panned out after Martin O’Neill was unveiled as the new manager at the Gibson Hotel in Dublin on a Saturday in November 2013.
O’Neill is hosting his first one-on-one interviews with the Irish media and all that I’m asked about is the colour of the trousers that I’m wearing that day. They were red, or burgundy if you like, and the offending pants inadvertently appeared in a ‘cut away’ edit on television. Stay classy, Dublin.
So the choice of attire for the first training session in Gannon Park is given careful consideration (not really!). I’m up early to speak on Morning Ireland and would later speak to other RTE news programmes, including Today with Sean O’Rourke from a windy pitch in Malahide, but the media are only allowed to see the first 15 minutes of training, which is basically a warm-up. Oh the joys of stalking the Irish soccer team.
Then there was a longer chat with Colm Hayes on 2FM and once the satellite truck arrived it was time to package a piece for the One O’Clock news and prepare to go live. Some audio was then done for lunch-time radio before the chatter around the place centred on the fact that new assistant manager Roy Keane turned up early and had inspected the nearby gym – this was going to put him as the main focal point of not only my bulletins and the following day’s newspapers’ back pages.
The compelling nature of Keane’s character was evident this day when RTE, along with many other broadcasters, took his press conference live. It was entertaining, informative, funny and frightening; a medley of Keane’s Greatest Hits. A colleague was then chastised for asking a ‘stupid’ question. There, but for the grace of God….it could have been any of us and no doubt will be some day.
I was given extra time on television news bulletins, but it was hard to know what to leave out. For radio shows like Drivetime and GameOn, it was a case of ‘Analyse That!’. By the time we were finished, it was time for a quick hug and a catch up with journalists Colin Young and Damien Spellman, but I couldn’t linger in the pub because of the drive back to Delgany.
This has now become Matchday Minus One as the Champions League people like to call it. And as O’Neill has continued the Noel King tradition of bringing the squad to the Aviva Stadium on the eve of a match for a training session, it means a few less miles on the M50 for me.
O’Neill has plenty to say but says it in less time than Giovanni Trapattoni took. Because of the time of the press conference and the (slightly) delayed training session, it is so close our Six O’Clock television deadline that I am given a satellite truck again. But neither the operator nor I are the slickest of VT editors, so we go with one camera shot of Roy and Robbie Keane playing keepy-uppy on the Aviva pitch.
This is Matchday and after all the hype it is time to get back to the football. It was beginning to dawn on editors that O’Neill and Keane would not actually be playing themselves but 11 other guys. Still, we go live with news of the starting line-up and then former Ireland captain Kenny Cunningham gives his thoughts. I was forced to stand on his foot to make him stop talking, but he took it well, I think. As for the game? Decent win over Latvia and a good start for O’Neill.
The reaction to the game was overwhelmingly positive following a 3-0 win and my Saturday included a discussion on radio about the immediate impact of the ‘Dream Team’ and how Aiden McGeady and James McClean, in particular, looked to be reborn in a green jersey.
Here’s where it gets messy. For many years the press corps travelled with the team, but that arrangement no longer pertains, so it involved a magical mystery tour in order to get to Poznan in Poland, via a night spent in Berlin. That was after we were refused entry to flight in Frankfurt due to arriving at the departure gate with seven minutes left and a ton of camera gear to get through. But they offered us a later flight to Copenhagen and a transfer to Poznan, which cameraman Magnus Kelly convinced me was the best bet.
We still had six hour to kill in Frankfurt airport, so we went and had something to ear. Big mistake! A dodgy tummy had set in before the Copenhagen flight and it was delayed by an hour, thus meaning we would not make the Poznan connection. So we stayed in a Frankfurt hotel; well, I spent most of it in the toilet before heading for a 04:45am flight.
I’m with Bob Geldof on this one, I don’t like Mondays, especially with a dodgy tummy but a visit to a Polish pharmacy did help. We filmed around Poznan and it was quite a contrast to 18 months earlier when there were thousands of Irish supporters at the European Championships. We eventually found some fans who were hopeful of good things to come under the new regime.
Yet again, the pre-match press conference and the training session in the stadium ahead of the friendly with Poland were a logistical nightmare in terms of deadlines, although the Polish wi-fi did allow us to go live to studio, simply by using an App on my phone – it’s called ‘Luci Live’ and is an amazing piece of kit.
On Matchday, Magnus had sourced a 4G card locally and by literally plugging it into his laptop and connecting his camera we could do television two ways (where the news anchor can talk back). We did the One O’Clock News as a dummy run and it worked fine. Later that night I spoke to former Ireland manager Brian Kerr from the press box for the Six One News.
The game against Poland proved to be a much stiffer test for Ireland, but the scoreless draw meant that O’Neill kept his unbeaten run going. He spoke to me before and after the game and thanks to that App his thoughts were relayed from the tunnel in the stadium directly back to base.
Before we knew it, it was after midnight and time to find a taxi back to the hotel and a quick kip before Morning Ireland then Poznan – Frankfurt – Dublin all over again; this time without the grief. It was a good trip overall and a good week under the new management team.