Saturday 21 October 2017

Life lessons with Evanne Ní Chuilinn: My female colleagues and I have ambition and bottle and we're good at what we do

Bottle and ambition: RTÉ's Evanne Ni Chulainn. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Bottle and ambition: RTÉ's Evanne Ni Chulainn. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Family: Evanne Ni Chulainn and daughter Peigi
John Meagher

John Meagher

Evanne Ní Chuilinn has worked as an RTÉ sports broadcaster for 12 years, having started off as a researcher in TG4. The Kilkenny native was among those who reported on the Olympics for the national broadcaster and is currently in Rio working on the station's coverage of the Paralympics, which concludes tomorrow. The proud Gaelgeoir lives in Dublin with her husband Brian and children, Séimí and Peigí.

Sport was my own thing growing up - my mam and dad weren't into it. I tried everything and I wasn't great at any of them, but I loved giving everything a go - from gymnastics to tennis and swimming. There was basketball because I was so tall and, obviously when you grow up in Kilkenny, camogie, which I played until I had my son.

I did modern dancing for years and I gave serious thought to going to England to study it professionally. I did exams and everything - it was this happy medium between the real structure of ballet and ad hoc nature of hip-hop. But I came to realise that it was a very tough career. A dance teacher told me: "You'd really want to love it because you'll be training every day and you won't be able to eat what you want and you'll be probably dancing on a cruise ship for years before you're at the point when you could open your own dance school somewhere in Ireland."

I always knew I was adopted. Mam and dad had a mantra: I was their special adopted daughter. I've a great relationship with my birth mother, Mary, whom I met for the first time when I was about 20. Mary's in Tipperary and I've two half-sisters and a half-brother. The rivalry for the All-Ireland final was mighty.

My brother Cormac took his own life in 2013. I'd never spoken about suicide before, but when it happens to your family you start to talk about it. I was in Kilkenny for six weeks and I didn't want to leave - I wanted to stay in that bubble. But then I had to go back to work. Everyone is lovely on the first day. But on the second day, it's like nothing has happened. Your life has changed utterly, and yet life goes on. It's almost a relief to be able to talk about how you're feeling to random strangers who have gone through the same thing.

I think it's an advantage to have Irish if you're planning on a career in broadcasting. I started off in TG4 on a sports programme, and it was the language that helped open that particular door.

RTÉ presenter Evanne Ní Chuilinn and her son Seimi playing golf at the Spawell Golf course in Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron.
RTÉ presenter Evanne Ní Chuilinn and her son Seimi playing golf at the Spawell Golf course in Dublin. Photo: Arthur Carron.

RTÉ had the rights to more sports events when I joined 12 years ago, but other broadcasters have won some of those sports rights in recent years. I'd wonder how long the [sports] federations can afford to have their fanbase alienated from their product. Look at Pro12 in rugby: I have a son at home who is sports-mad. He will watch any sport that's on the television. But I don't have one of the packages [that's necessary to watch this rugby competition] so we don't get to watch Pro12 and I'm not going to bring him to the pub to watch it.

When I started in RTÉ, there were only a small number of women in the sports department. Having a female anchor was largely unheard of at the time, but all that's changed. My female colleagues and I have ambition and bottle and we're good at what we do, and our bosses know that. I think we've had to stand out that little bit more than our male counterparts. I might be wrong, but I do believe you have to work that little bit harder.

Sometimes, on Sky Sports News, it does look like certain people are there because of their appearance. It's not like that on RTÉ or BBC or Channel 4. I certainly don't dress up like I'm going for a night out when I'm reading the news. And - not wishing to be disparaging to myself or any of my colleagues - we're not models, we're journalists.

I was very green when dealing with the media 10 or 12 years ago. I was maybe a little too open, too trusting when I'd be interviewed. But it does give an indication about what it can be like for a sports person to have a microphone thrust in front of them, especially in the heat of the moment as [boxer] Michael Conlan showed at the Olympics. But, then, the flip side is the O'Donovan brothers [silver medal-winning Cork rowers] and the pleasure they gave the country when they did so well.

RTE sports presenter Evanne Ni Chuilinn and Brian Fitzsimons shows off her eight-month old son Seimi at a photoshoot for VIP Magazine
RTE sports presenter Evanne Ni Chuilinn and Brian Fitzsimons shows off her eight-month old son Seimi at a photoshoot for VIP Magazine

There clearly wasn't an awareness in the Olympic movement about he inappropriateness of Rio as a venue. It wasn't ready. It was awarded these Olympics seven years ago because they were in the middle of a boom and the city was doing well, but it turned out they just weren't capable economically or socially of hosting a huge event like that. The corporate Olympic movement is so disconnected from your ordinary punter's life in somewhere like Rio and that was pretty obvious as soon as we got there. The poor people were completely discommoded.

It makes me really sad to go to see children under the age of 10 who are clinically obese. There are two things at play: one is the parents, because you are essentially the person who has to educate your child about what's healthy and what's not. And the other thing is society, everything is large and the attitude is "do you want fries with that?" I'm all for the odd treat as long as it's not a habit. Fizzy drinks is a huge issue and so are "silent" sugars in things like yoghurts.

Evanne Ní Chuilinn helped launch the Irish Heart Foundation's Heart Month which runs until the end of September. This year's campaign, 'Stop the Drama!', aims to help time-strapped parents feed their children healthy food so that they can have a "heart for life". irishheart/nodrama

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