Ciarán O’Hara recalls TV3’s maiden voyage into the Gaelic Games broadcasting arena, ending RTÉ’s monopoly of live championship coverage.
Clare and Waterford locked horns on June’s first Sunday back in 2008 and instead of the familiar exchanges of Cyril Farrell and Ger Loughnane, viewers tuned in to see Matt Cooper and Jamesie O’Connor swapping pleasantries pitchside in Limerick.
Sky Sports enter the arena this evening and Ciarán O’Hara is again involved, serving in the capacity of series producer.
“So much hype surrounded the TV3 coverage back then because it was a change from RTÉ and people were interested to see what we would table, so from that point of view it was great to be involved,” he noted.
“We had put in a huge amount of preparatory work and you know the day couldn’t have gone better. It was possibly the warmest Sunday of the entire summer and nothing went wrong. We were nervous cause you don’t know what road bump might present itself, but we cleared every hurdle safely.”
And so when Sky Sports secured the rights to 20 championship games this March, director of production Steve Smith immediately set about building a team of capable technicians, astutely adept in matters GAA.
“It was a challenge for them to put together a team capable of broadcasting and analysing a GAA match because that is something they had never done before. Steve Smith approached me to discuss working with them and I was obviously delighted with that. It is Sky Sports after all.”
The team slowly started to take shape and aware of the games they would be televising, recces of the prospective venues were carried out. O’Hara’s task, however, was to construct and train a team of analysts and commentators who would front Sky’s coverage.
The Belmullet man returned to his TV3 roots, acquiring the services of Mike Finnerty, Dave McIntyre, Jamesie O’Connor, Nicky English and Peter Canavan. Former Galway hurler Ollie Canning will also be present in studio today.
“I knew these guys could do what we were attempting to do. We are introducing new technology and it takes certain kind of people to adapt to that, to use it to provide insight and to be capable in using it on match day when they are live and the audience is however big.
“Last week in Bartlemy, just outside Fermoy, we had our training day. Our facilities company Television Mobiles are based there. We went down and we tested a lot of the data collection software, the touch screen technology which will allow Peter and Jamesie in particular to best illustrate the points they want to make.
“The process is largely driven by them, it is them saying can the technology do this, can it do that because we want them to drive the editorial agenda when it comes to the analysis.”
Content the chosen few were Sky literate, attention swiftly turned elsewhere. Where would the cameras be positioned at Nowlan Park, how many and from which side would they broadcast?
And so we arrive at this evening’s opening act.
The dress rehearsal ran smoothly enough at Nowlan Park yesterday, but O’Hara is keenly aware that road bumps may present themselves.
“The first draft for this game would have been drawn up around two weeks ago. Obviously we will make final tweaks on the day on the basis of how we felt the final rehearsal went. The nature of sport is that you can’t run through everything in advance. What we will try to do is to prepare for every eventuality. We will rehearse the pre-match elements because that you can control.
“I will be in the outside broadcast set-up which will be located in the car park at the O’Loughlin Gaels end from around midday. That is effectively the control room and we will be wired up to all the main players inside the ground. I will attend to the studio to make sure everyone is comfortable and the technology is working correctly there.
“TV3 were terrific in their coverage of Gaelic Games, but Sky’s resources are quite simply phenomenal. They are constantly developing the production and broadcasting of sport. We don’t simply want an error-free broadcast, we want to set the tone. The audience will have a certain expectation and we will not be modelling or morphing our coverage of GAA on any other sport.
“We do, however, want to stamp the Sky style of broadcasting on GAA. That begins in Nowlan Park.”
Sky Sports hold exclusive broadcasting rights to 14 championship games this summer. This consists of two Saturday evening and two Sunday provincial championship games, eight Saturday evening matches in the All-Ireland qualifiers and two All-Ireland football championship quarter-finals.
Confirmed fixtures to be broadcast on Sky alongside this evening’s clash of Kilkenny v Offaly are Dublin v Wexford (Leinster SHC); Sligo v Galway (Connacht SFC); and Armagh/Cavan v Tyrone/Monaghan in the Ulster SFC semi-final. Added to the above 14 games, Sky will also broadcast live, along with RTÉ, the All-Ireland SHC and SFC semi-finals and finals.
This brings to 20 the number of games to be televised by Sky in the first year of their three-year GAA contract.