Action: Sky’s coverage of Gaelic games begins at Nowlan Park

Director Ciarán Ó hEadhra confident his team will bring something new to GAA coverage

Sky TV launch their coverage of the GAA championship at Croke Park last month. Photo: Clive O’Donohoe/Inpho

Sky TV launch their coverage of the GAA championship at Croke Park last month. Photo: Clive O’Donohoe/Inpho

Sat, Jun 7, 2014, 01:00

Friday afternoon and Nowlan Park is grey and still. At least on the face of it. The only sound is the crank of a distant drill above in the stand. A few men in yellow jackets go around nipping and tucking the place into shape for the summer’s first championship match and if you didn’t know different, you’d say all was business as usual.

But you do know different. You know that out in the car park behind the Ardán Ó Cearbhaill, three trucks are humming away with a couple of dozen technicians and engineers and operators and assistants inside.

And you know that in a square box above the bottom corner of the pitch, another 20 or so are framing, lighting, trial-and-erroring the temporary studio they’ve been putting up since Wednesday. A day out from their GAA debut, Sky Sports are slapping on the greasepaint.

Brian Carney arrives, hoodie pulled up around his ears on what is a chilly afternoon for early June. Rachel Wyse, Jamesie O’Connor and Ollie Canning are here too, ready for rehearsal. Before they can get started though, director Ciarán Ó hEadhra has a fixture to fulfil.

He has a live link set up from his iPhone to the Sky Ireland headquarters in Dublin where an audience of a few hundred employees is watching as he gives them a guided tour of the operation. O’Connor and Wyse take questions from the floor. “No Joe Brolly ones, please,” she cracks, to much laughter.

Ó hEadhra is a Mayo man who in a former life headed up TV3’s coverage. In a former, former one, he did everything from GAA to F1 at Setanta and if you go far enough back, he was involved with the very first GAA broadcast on TG4.

“It was either a Sigerson match or a club match. I think it was possibly Mount Sion against Doora-Barefield at Fraher Field.”

Lead analyst

A quick check back shows that O’Connor, his lead analyst this weekend, scored four points that day, all frees. The idea that the pair of them would be here, all of 16 years later, driving the first ever hurling match on Sky Sports would have been beyond the limits of anyone’s imagination.

His co-director is Steve Lawrence, a Sky veteran who has been at the company for over 20 years. When he started, Sky Sports had 30 full-time employees. The road from there to here has taken him through more sports and countries than he can count. Soccer, cricket, horse racing, you name it. Strip it all away and he’d happily pass his life watching greyhound racing.

Ó hEadhra’s production company left TV3’s coverage in 2011 when the obliteration of media budgets that year meant everything was going to be done in-house and he figured he was going to be spending this summer making documentaries.

But when word went around in the spring that Sky looked like they were about to get into the market, he was put on notice. A former executive in Setanta was high enough up in Sky now for his name to be bounced around the place and when the deal was done, his plans for the summer changed in an instant.

Blown away

“I took a sabbatical from the company. You can’t pass this up. The ambition they have, the resources, are huge. The first day I went over to meet with them, I was blown away by the number of people who were dedicated to making this thing work.

“You went around the table and there was graphics, there was promos, there was travel, there was production management, there was marketing. So straight away, you’re going, ‘Okay, this is some operation’.

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