Wednesday 21 August 2019

'You can be the only girl in the room' - Presenter Niamh Kinsella happy with life in a man's world

Graeme Souness, Niall Quinn and Kevin Kilbane are part of the Virgin Media Sport presenting team alongside Niamh Kinsella
Graeme Souness, Niall Quinn and Kevin Kilbane are part of the Virgin Media Sport presenting team alongside Niamh Kinsella
Kevin Palmer

Kevin Palmer

Niamh Kinsella is often the only female in the room when she attends a sporting press event, but the Virgin Media Sport presenter believes a revolution is now underway for women in sport.

Kinsella landed her dream job when she was handed a prominent role in Virgin's acclaimed coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Europa League over the last year, yet she admits the pressure to prove her worth is all the pressing as she breaks down a few barriers in a male-dominated sports journalism industry.

During a period that has seen a shift in attitudes towards women's sport and female sports presenters and pundits coming to the fore, Killiney-born Kinsella told Magazine+ that a corner has been turned and there is no going back.

"It can be intimidating to attend a big sports press day if you are the only girl in the room," begins Niamh. "Some of these reporters have been involved in football or rugby for 30 years and you almost feel you need to make a positive mark when you are talking to them.

"I've never had a problem stepping into a man's world and from a young age, I was always a bit of a tomboy who loved to play football with the boys, but I feel there is a pressure to prove myself when I'm on air with legends of the game like Graeme Souness or Niall Quinn.

"As a female, you have that little bit of extra pressure to do the job well and make sure people don't have an opportunity to say you are there as a token gesture, but the reaction I've had both from the team I'm working with at Virgin Media and on social media has all been positive and that has been so encouraging.

"There is always a small concern that you will not be taken seriously talking about football. I wanted to be clear from the start that I was not a token female put on the TV to tick a box.

"We have seen a lot of female pundits analysing the men's game in the last year and that has attracted some negativity, but that's not my job and while I have played the game to a reasonable level and come from a family of football lovers, I am not an expert on the game.

"My role is to ask questions that provide the analysts with a platform to give their expert opinion. Maybe I will give a prompt here and there, but it is not my job to give the viewers experts views from my perspective."

Hailing from a sporting family that saw both her mother, father and auntie play football, Kinsella also plays the game with a real passion and after starting her broadcasting career as a news reporter with TV3, her shift in roles to sport on the new Virgin Media Sport channel last year was a dream come true.

"I have to pinch myself at times because I am getting paid to talk about my favourite sport and to work on a massive competition like the Champions League," she continues. "My Dad is constantly asking me how I landed this job and I can't quite believe it myself!

"Sport has always been a massive part of life in our family. Football was always on TV, my Mum played football, my auntie also played. So when the chance came to mix broadcasting with my passion for football, it was the dream for me. I was on the fantasy football team at work and they bosses spotted that and asked me whether I would like to do it and they didn't get to the end of the sentence before I said yes.

"It would be great to think that girls will see people like me on TV and believe that they can also become sports reporters one day. Maybe in the past it was not a career open to females, but the doors are opening now.

"Hopefully things are changing and in a few years time it would be nice to think that I would not be the only girl at a press conference for a big sporting event because there is a positive mood now to give everyone a chance in this job now."

It's not just in front of the cameras that Kinsella believes a change is unstoppable for women, as she is convinced that the interest in watching elite athletes is also rising at a rapid rate.

With the women's World Cup attracting big TV audience figures in Ireland the UK in recent weeks and Irish boxing great Katie Taylor shining in the previously all-male world of professional boxing, the momentum behind women's sport has gathered momentum at a thrilling rate.

"We are in the middle of a revolution for women's sport," adds Niamh. "The 20x20 campaign in Ireland that is highlighting the best in women's sport is a wonderful platform to promote all varieties of sports and I hope there is an appetite to look at women's sport in a different light now.

"This feels like the moment to leave the sniggers behind and shed the negativity that has often surrounded women's sport and we people have seen what is possible when they give girls a chance to perform on the highest level. Over the last year, people have started to embrace women's sport and that is great to see.

"The success of the Irish hockey team last year was fantastic and it became a national story that was on the front and back pages of the newspapers. Events like that help to shift perceptions and an A-list sporting hero like Katie Taylor has helped in that regard as well, so hopefully and this publicity can work on a couple of levels.

"First we have our athletes showing what they can do to a bigger audience than ever before and secondly, it will encourage girls of all ages to take part in sport and maybe the next generation will be inspired by what is happening now."

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