Donie Mac Murchu is now embedded in the Waterford hurling backroom, helping to analyse games for Derek McGrath and his selectors, but it’s been a long journey for the man from An Rinn.
Growing up in west Waterford, hurling and football were Mac Murchú ’s games of choice. When RTÉ outsourced its outside broadcasting in 2002 opportunities opened up and Mac Murchú , who had trained as a camera operator with Nemeton, took them.
He went to work as a camera operator and then camera supervisor with The Sunday Game, which was a “massive honour”.
And also a massive challenge.
Filming hurling asks specific questions of a camera operator, he says.
“It’s all about context. Any camera operator can be trained to follow a ball flying fast through the air but to cover it adequately you need to put it in context - who’s hit it, who’s going to receive it.
“With the advent of super-slow-mo, which has been brilliant highlighting the skill levels in hurling, enlightening camera operators on the right time to be particularly tight to show a skill while at other times going wide to show the shape of a team or a tactic . . . that’s a challenge.” There are other variables, not least the skills of the game itself.
“There are plenty of considerations which don’t help - low sunlight, rain thrown into the lens, or the operator’s face, and then there’s the amount of hooking in the modern game. Because the ball travels so fast you’re always moving even as the player in possession draws back his hurley, so when the dreaded hook goes in you have the shy pan back to find the ball.
“It’s one of those things where you need to immediately regain your composure and say to yourself, ‘I’ll be spot on with the next one’. I had one incident when I was on the throw-in for a game - four lads pulling on one ball which can go anywhere - and in this case something moved left, so I followed it, only to find it was a fragment of a hurley that had flown off - the ball had gone the other way altogether.
“Nobody ever says anything, though, in terms of criticising a cameraman. Everybody understands the challenge of covering hurling.”
And the celebration.
Mac Murchú came across many people’s radar when he was caught on camera himself, overjoyed by Waterford’s All-Ireland semi-final win in 2008. “Slagging? Ah there was, but it was given and taken. It was all in the moment. It was unprofessional and embarrassing - not so much the celebration, but I had my headphones off, which is a cardinal sin.
“I was lost in the moment, but given the number of semi-finals we’d been to and lost, the elation of that moment, of finally getting there, I was just lost in it.
“It was only in the following hours, when I saw 70 or 80 texts on my phone about it, I realised something had gone on, because I was in a daze. But I heard about it a fair bit from my colleagues alright.”
After 14 years Mac Murchú decided to take a step back from camera work. When the GAA season finished, after all, he kept working. The Six Nations, EU presidencies, US presidential visits, the Premier League for a year. There was no off-season.
“It’s a tough job, the concentration level needed is high, and there’s a personal pride in doing the best job possible. An All-Ireland final is watched by a massive audience here and abroad. And you’re a couple of days lugging gear up and down stairs and in and out of lifts before a big game, too, there’s plenty to do.”
He helped shoot the Waterford crossbar challenge last year and ended up chatting to the Waterford backroom team, including analyst Tomas Rua Ó Cadhla, mentioning his intention to take some time off. Offering to help if they were interested.
“It snowballed from there,” he says. “To be honest, it’s been an eye-opener, the contrast between the actuality and . . . I won’t say what you’re led to believe, but the perception of what goes on with counties from the outside and the actuality.
“There’s a time commitment, no doubt, though that in itself isn’t the significant thing. In my time with The Sunday Game I’d have sat down and reviewed all the games on a given weekend even if I hadn’t been working on them, just to see if a particular angle worked or if replays were well filmed and so on.
“Now I’m watching as many games but with a far different emphasis. You’re looking for patterns, because people are creatures of habit, and under pressure they revert to habit.”
It’s been eye-opener, being on the other side of the fence: “The amount of attention paid in the media to tactics and shapes - when wide shots are generated on The Sunday Game and someone says ‘this guy’s playing here, or there’, you’d feel like saying, ‘scroll that on five or ten seconds and he’s in a different position’.
It’s like a moment caught in time defines the tactics of a manager. What I see is a fluidity that managers try to encourage, but that’s not really commented upon. That’s just me, comparing what I see with what we break down a game to the analysis I see elsewhere.
“You end up saying ‘wow, that’s interesting, but that’s just a microcosm of 70 minutes of action.’”
There’s no need to be balanced and impartial now, at any rate. “Not at all,” he says. “I played myself so I understand the stakes, though this is a higher level. But I was always a fan whose first thought, at any match, was ‘how does this affect Waterford?’
“So the idea of ‘whatever needs to be done’ sat easily with me from the first. Nobody who worked alongside me for those 14 years would be in any doubt that I was a hardcore Waterford fan.”
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