In order to give an insight to a typical working week for an Irish football journalist, Tommy Martin provides a behind-the-scenes view of what goes into presenting live UEFA Champions League and Europa League action.
My Week by Tommy Martin (TV3)
I present our coverage of both the UEFA Champions League and Europa League, which means live matches on Tuesday and Thursday nights. We will have eight live matches coming up with 17 in all before May, so it’s bound to be a hectic period.
This means a lot of preparation and planning has to be done in advance, so by the Monday before our first Champions League round of 16 games, Manchester City versus Barcelona (not a bad one to start with), all the logistics will be sorted and it’s a matter of fine-tuning.
We have a meeting on Monday morning – our producer Kieran Holden, assistant producer Michael Brady, and myself – to finalise the running order. Michael is responsible for the montages and music pieces, so we agree on the theme of the final piece before the match (I believe it’s called a ‘megatease’ in the business, which, to me, sounds more like a villain in a superhero movie).
Our studio guests are Celtic boss Neil Lennon and former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr. We decide to start the pre-match discussion with Lennon on his insight into the current Barcelona team, Celtic having played them in the group stage. Having chatted to Brian previously, we dig out some clips of City struggling in midfield against Bayern Munich earlier in the tournament, so we can move the discussion around that, depending on how City line-up.
Once we’ve agreed the running order – we also put in place the post-match structure, with timings for discussion, analysis, interviews and the highlights of the night’s other game, Bayer Leverkusen versus PSG – the rest of my day is largely taken up with research. I’ll prepare two pages of notes on all the relevant issues around the game, with some statistics, quotes from players and managers, and background on any talking points.
You could spend an infinite amount of time on research, but I’ve learned that it’s important to be focused and relevant; there’s only so much that you can take in. After that, I’ll write scripts and jot down possible questions. On the night, I will mix between auto cue and ad libs to camera.
I get into the office at around 2.30pm and have a quick check for any breaking news or new angles ahead of the game. We have a production meeting at 4pm, at which Kieran will go through the running order with the whole team working on the match.
Lennon arrives at 5pm. He worked with TV3 on a number of occasions before getting the Celtic job, but his status has grown somewhat since then – particularly on the back of beating Barcelona last season. I have a cup of tea with him and Kerr, and we have a quick catch-up on the running order before the team news filters through at around 6.30pm. Then it’s into make-up and on to studio for around 7.05pm – 25 minutes before we go live. We rehearse the opening of the show, the crew check lights and cameras, and generally make the guests feel comfortable. At 7.30pm, Zadok the Priest strikes up (that’s the Champions League anthem, not our in-house chaplain) and we’re away.
I’m immediately impressed by Lennon. He’s articulate, insightful and communicates in a direct, cliche-free style. Given that the two teams have scored 228 goals between them this season, we tentatively expect – or rather hope – for an all-guns-blazing classic. It doesn’t exactly unfold that way, but we get a big talking point for the boys in the studio: Martin Demichelis’s red card and the resultant penalty that puts Barcelona in front. While it’s important to drill into the tactical whys and wherefores, it’s also nice to have a meaty issue to chew over – one that will dominate the next day’s headlines.
Throughout the match I scribble notes and review our post-match agenda with the panellists and the gallery. Post-match is enjoyable, less frantic than the group stage when there are lots of highlights to get through, and Lennon and Kerr work pretty well together. Before we go off air, I ask Lennon about the reports linking him to the Norwich City manager’s job. He straight-bats a couple of questions, but it gets picked up by media across the water the next day, which the powers-that-be always like.
However, what the powers-that-be really like is when the ‘numbers’ are ‘good’. The numbers (viewing figures) are available early the next morning and, thankfully, they are good. It is, of course, mainly a reflection on public interest in the match itself, rather than anything we’ve done, but still. As well as the overall audience, we almost got four times as many viewers as ITV, which, given their vastly superior financial resources (including the employment of a certain Republic of Ireland assistant manager) is not a bad result.
Attention then turns to Thursday night’s Europa League match between Swansea City and Napoli. The build-up to this competition is a lot lower key, but there is alms the amount of work involved, especially when, with an 8.05pm kick-off, there is actually 20 minutes more pre-match build-up than for a Champions League match. We go through the same process: deciding on topics, pre-match analysis, music pieces, packages etc. I then do the same research and scripting as with the Champions League. More guts, less glory.
The Europa League has its flaws and critics – many of both – but its knockout stages often throw up brilliant matches. Perhaps it is because the stakes are less high or that the teams involved are less familiar with each other, but there is regularly an air of attacking abandon all too rare in high-level football. Swansea versus Napoli looks like being another example of that.
Swansea play some great stuff and at half-time, though there are no goals, Kerr – my trusted sidekick again – picks out the roles of Swansea’s wide players and playmaker Pablo Hernandez for our half-time discussion. The break is short and to the point; as a commercial broadcaster, this is where advertisers get the most bang for their buck. Alas, the second half peters out somewhat and we wound off the night less than optimistic for Swansea’s hopes, despite their good performance in the scoreless draw.
I have Friday off to recharge the batteries (which, with two young children, I fail spectacularly to do) before doing ti all over again the next week. Just 15 matches in 13 weeks to go. Phew!
Check out previous ‘My Weeks’ from SWAI members…
Tony O’Donoghue on covering Martin O’Neill’s first week as Ireland boss