Friday 23 March 2018

Rachel Wyse: 'Monday was a perfect day. Sadly, things changed fast'

Rachel Wyse with fellow presenter Brian Carney and analysts Jamesie OConnor and Peter Canavan at the Sky Sports launch at Croke Park last Monday
Rachel Wyse with fellow presenter Brian Carney and analysts Jamesie OConnor and Peter Canavan at the Sky Sports launch at Croke Park last Monday

Rachel Wyse

Last Monday, as I surveyed the surrounds of Croke Park, the mood was, understandably, one of excitement and anticipation. Being unveiled as the presenter of the Sky Sports GAA coverage marked a milestone in my career.

After four years in London, returning to Dublin knowing that I was to be involved in this new venture was a proud day for me. I felt that the sacrifice of having to leave familiar surrounds had paid dividends.

I had achieved something.

The enthusiasm of my colleague Brian Carney and panellists Jamesie O'Connor and Peter Canavan was infectious. We spoke of the enormity of this opportunity and we discussed our vision for the Sky Sports coverage and quickly it became apparent how easy it would be to work with such knowledgeable people.

Monday was a perfect day.

Sadly, things changed very quickly. I knew Joe Brolly to be a skilful footballer whom I suspect knows all too well what it's like to be on the receiving end of an off-the-ball 'introduction' – so it was a little ironic that it was a fleeted-footed corner-forward that rolled out a 'welcome' to the world of the GAA.

Naively, I thought these abilities were the patented forte of corner-backs. I don't know Brolly; I have never met the man. I do know him to be an articulate and opinionated RTE analyst, who shoots straight from the hip – as is his prerogative.

I have no problem with people's opinions once they are well-founded and without bias. I learned a valuable lesson a long time ago working in the media – some people will like you and some people won't and the sooner you accept the latter, then the easier your career was likely to be.


Brolly's reference to a "Baywatch babe" is old ground for the female presenters on Sky Sports News. We cannot control such sentiments. Initially, when I joined Sky Sports, these references were hurtful, now I feel they are nothing more but an insight into the character of the people who express these opinions.

People see different things in the same picture. But disappointingly, our appearance is deemed to be the reference point as to our ability to do our jobs. I wonder does the same logic apply to female presenters on BBC, ITV or, indeed, RTE. Or perhaps, in some minds, all female presenters across all platforms of programmes are there to entice a male audience.

I wonder if Brolly was sitting down to pick a ladies football team, would he be happy to disregard someone based upon their appearance? I suspect not and it's disappointing he chose me as an exception.

Then again, I am in exalted company, as I recall that he identified Sean Cavanagh as an 'exception' in the not too distant past. Watching Cavanagh rescue Tyrone last Sunday, he appears to be a man unscathed. So, hopefully, a month from now, when I reflect on this week, my fate will take a similar route.

Whatever his opinions, there is no denying Brolly's passion for the GAA. And it's admirable. His concerns are clearly born out of a love for the games and what he believes they represent.

I can only assume his willingness to publicly air controversial opinions are indicative of the importance with which he holds the GAA. I get that it matters to the man and I have the utmost respect for his enthusiasm.

Events this week have served as timely reminder of the passion within GAA circles and I can admit to feeling a heightened sense of pressure to meet expectations from the very first moment of our initial transmission on this day week.

I am well aware of the level of debate that the Sky Sports link-up with the GAA has created and people of Brolly's ilk will ensure the standards of those working on this project are maintained at the highest possible level. And for that, I am grateful. As I was to read his public apology.

Such is the problem of having a need to conduct business in a public domain, when one is deemed to be inappropriate, then the inevitable apology must also be public.

Sky Sports have clearly chosen an impeccable team of individuals to provide expert analysis, as their unveiling promoted no more than a 'controversial' reference to a former place of employment.

I'm sure Peter Canavan and Jamesie O'Connor were most reassured that the more opinionated among us couldn't find fault in their past performances as analysts.

As we stood on the pitch last Monday, they tried to convey the feeling of climbing the steps of the Hogan Stand and the sense of achievement a Celtic Cross provides. Those who know these feelings are members of a sacred club, one in which respect knows no boundaries even long after playing days have ceased.

Looking forward, I hope that the focus will be on the talent that the GAA has to offer, promoting the sports and showcasing the magic of the GAA for the first time to an international audience.

Irish Independent

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