'I have nothing to prove to anyone': Maura Derrane on choosing a three-day week

The Today show returns today, with a new presenter - Sinéad Kennedy is joining the team. The trio reveal their plans for the new season - and Maura Derrane explains why she decided to step back to a three-day week
'I have nothing to prove to anyone': Maura Derrane on choosing a three-day week

Sinéad Kennedy, Daithí O'Sé and Maura Derrane: hosts of RTÉ's Today Show. Picture: Miki Barlok

Maura Derrane and Daíthí Ó’Sé are settling into their ninth year on daytime TV. And this season there’s a new addition: Sinéad Kennedy is joining them in the presenter’s seat.

Maura and Dáithí will host Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with Sinéad and Dáithí on Monday and Tuesdays.

It was, says Maura, time to put family first.

Her son, Cal, is just starting senior infants, and she wants to be there for school pick ups, to do homework with him.

“I wanted to make time for Cal,” she says. “I’ve been doing this eight years now and it’s time to step back a little and prioritise family.

Sinéad Kennedy, Daithí O'Sé and Maura Derrane: hosts of RTÉ's Today show. Picture: Miki Barlok
Sinéad Kennedy, Daithí O'Sé and Maura Derrane: hosts of RTÉ's Today show. Picture: Miki Barlok

“I’ve been on live TV since 1996 and afternoon TV for 11 years. It’s time to take a little break.” On top of the demands of live TV, Maura has also been commuting from Waterford and Dublin to the RTÉ Cork studios, where the show goes to air.

Her employers were very understanding she says.

“RTÉ was great, they really were,” she says.

“I love the show, it’s my baby.

“I’ve always been very career orientated but this feels like a natural time for a change, it feels organic.

“Cal is going into senior infants. I want to collect him from school to do his homework.

“At this age, I’m his friend — I’m his everything.” Her husband, former Fine Gael TD John Deasy, made a similar decision last year, walking away from politics in his early 50s, an age when he was still young enough to make a change, Maura explains. “I was fully supportive,” she says.

Her decision to work three days a week feels right, she says.

“I have nothing to prove to anyone, and not just to other people, but to myself.” 

Now called simply Today, the afternoon show read the mood of the country last March when lockdown was announced. There was an immediacy to the programme, it was though Maura and Dáithí were in our living rooms with us, bringing us serious updates but also some much needed light relief.

Maura Derrane: "This feels like a natural time for a change, it feels organic." Picture: Miki Barlok
Maura Derrane: "This feels like a natural time for a change, it feels organic." Picture: Miki Barlok

Their formula worked – audiences wanted more. The show’s run was extended by an additional two weeks. During the first four weeks of lockdown, average viewers were up 12%.

Lockdown brought them a new audience, but also a new credibility, in the industry and beyond.

“People usually working 9am to 5pm saw us for the first time,” says Dáithí, “and we want to bring them with us again this year.

“This really is public service broadcasting. We were the only ones to keep going,  with news, and people saw our work, and our value. I think even at RTÉ they’d overlooked us for a long time.

“We are on air every day from 3.30pm to 5.40pm, it’s like five Late Late Shows a week.” In the coming months the three presenters will be our equivalent of upbeat friends, bringing us positives in what might be a dark winter.

“We want to reward audiences every day,” says Maura. “Helping them, informing them, bringing happiness and lightness.” Or as Dáithí puts it, “they’ll have the craic”.

New additions include an interactive daily quiz with viewers.

“Everyone was fearful at the beginning of lockdown,” says Maura, “but after two weeks it was amazing how adept we were at adapting. It felt normal.

“We connected with our audience.” 

Sinéad Kennedy: “I love live TV. I love knowing that anything can happen.”  Picture: Miki Barlok
Sinéad Kennedy: “I love live TV. I love knowing that anything can happen.”  Picture: Miki Barlok

Sinéad Kennedy is no stranger to the show, having filled in for Maura in previous seasons.

“I’ve been on it on and off for years, I’m their number one sub,” she says, laughing. 

The timing was great too — Covid-19 means Winning Streak’s return is on hold. Not that Sinéad has been quiet, she fronted RTÉ’s midweek summer show and has also been working with the station’s doc unit on some very hard hitting documentaries. 

There was The Crossing, focusing on the refugee crisis, and she worked on a programme with cervical cancer campaigner Laura Brennan in the months before she passed away. (Her latest radio documentary on online child sexual abuse, Age, Sex, Location, airs today on Radio 1 at 1pm.) 

This mix of the serious, and light TV like Winning Streak, makes for an ideal CV for a magazine show like Today.

What she’s most looking forward to is working on live TV, no surprise for a presenter who cut her teeth on kids’ programming aged just 19 when she was the face of Satitude.

“I love live TV,” she says. “I love knowing that anything can happen.” 

Daithí O'Sé: "We’ll have the craic, a bit of madness." Picture: Miki Barlok
Daithí O'Sé: "We’ll have the craic, a bit of madness." Picture: Miki Barlok

As for Dáithí, he’s thrilled with the changes for the new season.

“It’s the right time,” he says, “to shake it up. And Sinéad is great. There’ll be a new dynamic, a new energy.” He has a firm vision for the show.

“We’ll keep Covid outside — our panelists will touch on it but this will be a safe place. We’ll have the craic, a bit of madness.” He’s unfailingly optimistic about the future.

“Micheál Óg has returned to school. People kept asking me was I worried about him going back to school and I say, no, because if I’m worried then he’s worried.

“We’ve got to stay upbeat — I keep saying, every day is a day closer to a vaccine.” It’s just the positivity we’ll need this winter, and it’ll beam its way into our living rooms every day, live from Cork.

Today returns to RTÉ One today

  • Photographer: Miki Barlok barlokphoto.com 
  • Stylist: Sarah Corcoran @Ros Model Management sarahcorcoranstylist.com/rosmodelmanagement.com
  • Hair and Make-up: Kate Noonan katenoonanmakeup.com 
  • Stylist Assistant: Rion Hannora rionhannora.weebly.com 
  • With thanks to the River Lee Hotel, Cork 

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