The ghost on the sidelines

Tadhg De Brún’s memoirs will be in the shops soon. If you’re a GAA fan it’s essential for your library – after all, how many people do you know who have worked at 84 All-Ireland finals?

The maddest days I remember were back when we were actually allowed into dressing-rooms themselves after the final whistle of the All-Ireland final. We had to beat our way into the dressing-rooms; whatever county had won you had the impression that half of the county had managed to get into the dressing-room.

YOU KNOW him. He flickers on the edge of your attention when you watch the big games on television; come championship Sunday, he’s glimpsed flanking a winning manager who’s about to share his thoughts on victory.

Other times he’s steering a shattered player who’s seen his life dream turn to ashes.

Tadhg De Brún will work his 85th All-Ireland final this Sunday.

“I’m the RTÉ floor manager for GAA championship games,” says De Brún. “You’re there to organise things and make them happen on the ground – organising pre-match interviews with managers and interviews during the game with former players and so on.

“We’d work very closely with the GAA officials at each venue, because they’d have a timetable each day, and we’d work hand in glove with them, making sure our timetable matches up with them to ensure that things happen when they’re supposed to happen.”

De Brún’s first working All-Ireland was back in 1967, but he spent that game hauling cables, later becoming a cameraman and then floor manager. Relatively low-key television coverage meant a relatively late start for work.

“In the early days television coverage of the game began within minutes of the throw-in. Micheál O hÉithir would say “welcome to Croke Park” and the game would start within minutes of his announcement. Then the game ended, the presentation was made and we were gone. Nowadays we can begin as early as noon and be on air for five hours or longer.”

The work goes on for De Brún during the game nowadays: “While the match is on I’m beside the fourth official, keeping an eye on substitutions and so on, and after the final whistle I have to go to the dressing-rooms to get managers for interviews, man-of-the-match award-winners and so on.”

That means knocking on doors. De Brún is the man who approaches dressing-rooms for interviews after the game and 40 years’ experience means players and managers know him. It means he knows them as well.

“The fact that I’ve gotten to know players and managers down the years has made it a little easier – so does the fact that you get to know, with common sense, when to back off.

“If a fella has lost, then obviously he’s not going to be in good form. But even if his team has won the All-Ireland and the day didn’t go well for him personally, then common sense kicks in. Because you know that player is personally disappointed in his performance, he may not be the man to go for.”

Being ringside for some of the most dramatic moments in Irish sport has given him golden memories, of great – and grim days – alike.

“There are days that stick out. When Offaly won their first All-Ireland in 1981 was memorable, as was the previous year, with Galway. The fact that it was Offaly’s first, and Galway’s first in a long time, made them stand out. The likes of Cork, Kilkenny and Tipperary had been in and out of Croke Park for years, but people felt that Galway would never again win an All-Ireland, and they did, and then Offaly won their first. That was fantastic.

“Clare coming through in 1995 was another big day, and another one that stands out for me was Limerick in 1973, though whether that was because it was such an appalling day weather-wise or not I’m not sure. But because they hadn’t been there for so long, it really sticks in the memory for me.”

The sadder dressing-rooms share one thing across counties and generations, De Brún has found. There’s a quality to the silence that goes to the marrow.

“I remember Limerick in 1994. That was terrible, it was utter devastation. Disbelief, really. That was really a case of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, even though you couldn’t take away from Offaly’s achievement. It was total silence. Total.

“Funnily enough, though, probably the most disappointed dressing-room I ever saw was the Monaghan dressing-room after they lost to Kerry a couple of years ago in football. That was because they knew they had left it behind them and pure Kerry experience pulled it out of the bag, having trailed for 69 minutes.”

It’s a commonplace that defeat reveals true character, of course. The man from RTÉ can cite a Burke’s Peerage of hurling aristocracy who have met that impostor with grace.

“It’s a long list of impressive people,” says De Brún. “Brian Cody, win or lose, is quite amazing. Gerald McCarthy, win or lose, player or manager, was always so gracious it was incredible. Jimmy Barry-Murphy as well, it didn’t matter if he’d won or lost, he was exactly the same. DJ Carey was, well, just DJ.”

And Tadhg is Tadhg. One of his ancillary roles is as an aid to print journalists.

“There were days I’d feel bad,” he laughs, “I’d be bringing a player or manager down the corridor for television interviews and print journalists would be lining the tunnel, maybe with nobody to talk to. But they told me afterwards they were delighted to see me coming with a player, because they’d be able to get to talk to the player on the way back!”

Things change. Nowadays there’s a pristine media room under the Hogan Stand for print journalists, while television crews have a dedicated area with backdrop nearby. It’s a far cry from the halcyon days of the ’70s, when De Brún, the late Mick Dunne and a cameraman would batter their way into the winning dressing-room armed only with a plausible manner and . . . “The furry microphone, that’s right! We used to put the massage table in front of us for protection – you’d have hundreds of people in a tiny room.

“Things have improved in that sense, with the media rooms in Croke Park, but you still have to go chasing people and digging them up. At least you have a central point to bring them to, though.

“The maddest days I remember were back when we were actually allowed into dressing-rooms themselves after the final whistle of the All-Ireland final. We had to beat our way into the dressing-rooms; whatever county had won you had the impression that half of the county had managed to get into the dressing-room.

“I remember supporters coming into the dressing-rooms under the old Cusack Stand through skylights; how we got in ourselves I don’t know. How we got out I don’t know.”

This Sunday he’ll be knocking on another couple of dressing-room doors for players and managers. He’ll get them out. You know he will.

* Tunnel Vision by Tadhg De Brún is published by Mentor Press.


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