In the first of a series of quick-fire interviews with Irish football journalists, Stephen Doyle talks about struggling to hear his own voice during a live broadcast and the differences of covering other sports.
Q&A by Stephen Doyle (98FM)
How did you get started in your current job?
After applying to do a radio course in Ballyfermot College and picking up some work experience in community radio, I was introduced to the 98FM sport editor, Johnny Lyons, by a friend who had been working at the station. Johnny gave me a few shifts because he liked my long hair! About a year later, due to heavy workloads, I had to choose between the job and college. Johnny said that I would learn more on the job and that has been the best piece of career advice I have ever been given.
Can you remember the first big event that you covered?
My first big one was the 2007 FAI Cup Final between Cork City and Longford Town at a really cold RDS. Denis Behan got the winner with a brilliant diving header.
What has been your most memorable match?
I’m torn between two – the 2010 FAI Cup Final between Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers, which was amazing. There was a huge crowd and a great atmosphere. And then there was the incredible heroics from Ciaran Kelly as he saved four penalties in the shootout.
The other one would be the Republic of Ireland’s first leg in the Euro 2012 play-off game against Estonia. My professionalism went out the window when Keith Andrews headed in early on in Talinn. When the full-time whistle went and it was 4-0 to Ireland, it was a damn good feeling as it had been 10 years since Ireland reached a major tournament. Little did I know what was to come.
Do you have a particular career highlight?
I have to move out of football for this one as I don’t think I can top covering an Olympics. Football and music are my religion, but I love and I am lucky enough to cover many sports.
I would have had a very cynical view of the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ before London 2012 but it was an unbelievable two weeks or so. Watching Usain Bolt win his two individual gold medals from the front row and covering Katie Taylor’s gold medal win in front of a Italia ’90-like crowd blew my mind.
And what about a lowlight?
I came into reporting towards the end of Steve Staunton’s reign as Ireland ‘gaffer’. I loved Stan as a player and I even remember watching his international debut against Tunisia as a nipper. So I felt very sorry for him when things went pear-shaped when in charge of Ireland – a man who gave nothing but his best for his country as a player deserved better, but the management game just didn’t work out for him.
What has been your worst work-related disaster?
Trying to report on the World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria in the Vasil Levski Stadium in June 2009. The crowd was only around 40,000 but it sounded like 80,000 and the vitriol aimed at the Ireland team by the home fans was astounding. I was on a land-line phone reporting on the game and it was nigh on impossible to hear my cue back at the studio. I did try and ask a few of the locals to keep the noise down but they weren’t having any of it.
Is there one particular question you regret asking an interviewee?
There are too many to mention and every reporter has done it but I was never more scared than the time I did a pooled interview with Roy Keane. It was around the time he was struggling at Sunderland and a colleague, who shall remain nameless, asked if he would walk away. I have never seen four radio microphones shake so much as ours did when Keane’s cold eyes looked up at my colleague. Thankfully, after some intensive physiotherapy he was walking again within the year.
Who has been the best manager to deal with?
Pete Mahon has always been great with me. He’s an old-school football man, which I really like. Giovanni Trapattoni, while not always great to deal with, gave me some bizarre lines to work with over the years. I also have a lot of time for Ireland rugby coach Joe Schmidt. You could not meet a more passionate and down-to-earth chap and if he was allowed to, he would easily give you an hour-long post-match interview.
What stadium has the best media facilities?
When covering the League of Ireland, it has to be Tallaght Stadium, but I still love old Dalymount Park. But on my travels, the Emirates Stadium in London was fantastic. I covered the Ireland versus Brazil friendly there in March 2010 and it was incredible. Prawn sandwiches before kick-off, then pie, mash and mushy peas at half-time – lovely jubbly!
Do y0u have one particular big scoop that you are proud of?
Picking up a scoop in the radio game isn’t as easy as people might think it is, but I got a great line off a less-than-ahppy Kevin Doyle in a post-match interview following Ireland’s draw with Russia in Moscow. The boss was delighted with that one.
How does covering football differ to other sports?
Live reporting of matches is slightly easier to do in radio than other sports. Take GAA for example, you have players kicking points and goals every couple of minutes – trying to condense that into 40-50 seconds can be very difficult. Football is more enjoyable as I can be a little more imaginative with my reports.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
That it’s a handy number. I love my job and wouldn’t change it for the world, unless Neil Lennon or Gerardo Martino fancy signing an ageing centre-half. There’s a lot of bloody hard work and stressful moments involved before and after your reports on the mic.
Any advice for someone coming into football reporting?
Never leave a pre-match interview or press conference with a manager without getting full details on injuries etc. I learned that one very quickly.
What changes do you see happening to your profession in the future?
Twitter was a massive game-changer with regards to breaking news. I can only see the job becoming harder to get the scoop with the way that modern media has evolved in recent years. But you’re only as good as your last match report and you can only take each match report as it comes, so if you can get the performance right you should get the result right.