Sunday 21 January 2018

Conor McNamara's Rugby World Cup

For many journalists, having a parent wade in with advice about interviews might result in a family row. But not for Conor McNamara. The sports commentator has broadcasting in his blood; his father, Michael, is Mickey Mac of 2FM DJ fame, and Conor says that he enjoys the pointers he gets from his old man.

"I think one of the key things in this business is to have people who will give you honest feedback about how you've done", he says. "You have so many people who'll tell you you did great to your face but then behind your back it's another story. He'll say 'you're repeating a certain phrase.' That kind of stuff ­- others might feel they're harsh in saying that. What's funny is that when I was in my late teens, and Dad was in his Forties, he used to present the dance show on 2FM and he was kind of 'down with the kids.' And I think he quite appreciated my advice in those years; even though I had no experience of broadcasting, I had a young person's sense of what sounded cool and what didn't. And so now it's come full circle in a way."

Conor grew up in Ballyclough Co. Limerick and as a kid was mad about sports.

"I played all sports as a kid. In the school I went to, rugby was the dominant sport, and if you wanted to go out with the good-looking girls in Limerick, you needed to be a rugby player. But I knew I didn't have the build to really make it at rugby." The solution was a career in sports journalism, and Conor did stints at Radio Kerry and Today FM, and also got a foothold into television with the launch of TV3.

"It was my first job in broadcasting and they gave me my start really. I remember those days right at the beginning and it was tough; there was only RTE and TG4 and it felt like a big thing for there to be another channel", he recalls. "There were very little resources in terms of archive and they didn't really poach anyone from RTE. But for me it was an incredible experience and I got opportunities I wouldn't have got anywhere else." He would go on to make the successful transition to the BBC and went on to work as a commentator for Match Of The Day, which he likens to "being in the movie Top Gun … for a young guy it was that big."

Because of his fond memories of TV3, Conor is returning to present the channel's coverage of The Rugby World Cup, which many observers think Ireland has its best ever chance of winning.

"I was asked to do the Ireland games for BBC radio, but I asked my bosses if I could do this instead, and if you work for the BBC that's a big deal", he tells me. "Realistically there would be a bigger audience on the BBC, but to be able to commentate for a home crowd and try to sum up what's happening, that's huge." He says the involvement of Irish legend Keith Wood with TV3 was also a huge part of his decision to return to the channel for the tournament.

Conor now lives with his wife, Sorcha, and their three children, just outside Manchester. "I moved there to be near to the hub of English football and BBC Sport also moved to Salford [in Manchester] a few years ago, so that all worked out too." He says the commentary for the home Irish games is going to be an opportunity to be a pivotal part of the viewing experience for fans.

"The commentary, I think, has a huge potential to be part of the experience of watching it for the public. The classic example is when England won the 1966 World Cup and people remembered Kenneth Wolstenholme's commentary - when he said 'they think it's all over' - as much as they did the matches. During Italia '90 George Hamilton was also great at nailing those big moments. So for me to be able to commentate for a home crowd and try to sum up what's happening, that's just really a huge honour."

TV3 will screen all 48 games of the Rugby World Cup live and exclusive from September 18

Sunday Independent

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