Behind the Microphone – Jacqui Hurley

They bring us most of the magical moments we enjoy in sport through the commentary and analysis. Their personalities and the words they choose so often become a central part of our national memory around the truly defining moments in sport but they are there for the quieter days as well, telling the story of sport.

In our new Sport for Business series ‘Behind the Microphone’ we meet with the individuals in the media who bring sporting stories to life on television and radio.

We kick off today with RTÉ Saturday and Sunday Sport Presenter, Olympic and World Cup Broadcaster, Mum and one-time Irish Basketball representative Jacqui Hurley.

How did you get a start behind the microphone?

I did my degree in Limerick in Communications and English and I always wanted to do this.  I did an internship in America in my third year and that was where I really made up my mind.  I did everything from running autocues to learning cameras and eventually got on the air.

Sport was my passion but I was really fascinated by the industry of the media and I knew it was what I wanted to be, in whatever form that took.

I was then working in local radio in Live 95.  RTÉ were looking for contributors to young people’s television and I sent in a tape.  I got a phone call out of the blue and they said they’d like me to audition.  All of a sudden I was doing a five-minute slot before Home and Away.  It was TTV at the time.

Ryle Nugent was deputy Head of Sport at the time and one day I just asked him for a coffee and told him I’d love to work in sport, doing anything.

He must have thought I had something so he brought me in to work in production where I spent two years before moving on air.

It was a great grounding and when you’re willing to work, they recognise you as a grafter and that really stands to you.

You’re part of a group of presenters that seem to have all come in at around the same time…

Evanne (Ní Chuilinn) was in a little before me and was working as a sideline reporter on the Sunday Game.  I used to watch her and think I’d love to be her, wouldn’t it be great.

When I came in I was working as a sub-editor and I just asked her one day for a coffee, there I go again, and we actually became great mates.  We played a bit of camogie together and she actually taught me how to do the job.

Joanne (Cantwell) came across from TV3 at around the same time.  We are all of a similar mindset.  We were willing to do anything, we were all sports mad.  It was good fun being around the group in the office, with Hugh Cahill and Darren Frehill as well and just having this great job.

When we are away for something like the Olympics, where we were joined by Damien O’Meara as well, you really get to see the value of people, about what they can do to help and the skills that each of us has.  You learn a huge amount from those kinds of experiences.

What’s your favourite memory of where your career has taken you so far?

Without a shadow of a doubt, Katie Taylor’s Gold Medal in London in 2012 is a memory I will take with me to my grave.  I remember everything about it.  I was sitting beside Marty Morrissey on one side, Jimmy Magee on the other and Des Cahill one down from him.  I remember looking down the row and thinking these guys all have tears in their eyes and they have maybe gone their whole careers waiting for a moment like this.

There were 9,000 people in that Excel Arena.  My mum, my husband, my sister had all begged, borrowed or stolen tickets to be there, well not stolen but…  It was just one of those moments.  I’d say if you asked, ninety percent of Irish people would know where they were that moment when she won the gold medal.

Before she went people had already put a medal around her neck.  You can only imagine the pressure.

I had gotten to know her in the years leading up to London so there was  a personal connection as well but I think everybody kind of felt that.  To have one of ours, an Irish person, competing at that level on a world stage is just magic.

Sport just resonates with us.  People will remember political moments, like a speech or a news story but sport just connects to the heart.  We get emotional even talking or thinking about it.  It’s very special.

Who would have been your role models in the media, here and further afield?

I always looked over the water and saw that being a woman in sports journalism was possible.  You didn’t need to look far to see that Clare Balding, Gabby Logan, Sue Barker, Hazel Irvine, weren’t just there, they were good.

They were real idols, particularly when I was in college because they were all so good.  I looked to see that if they could make the breakthrough then so could I.

When I got to RTÉ Clare McNamara was already established, Joanne Cantwell was on TV3 and Evanne was on the sideline as well.

There were just lots of women on air and that made you believe that it was possible.  Kathryn Thomas used to present this programme called Rapid and she came down to do a piece with us when I was on the U16 basketball team, her and Jason Sherlock.

I remember thinking they were only a couple of years older than me and they have their own TV programme and that was the reality of the phrase seeing it to being it.  They weren’t just role models they were right there, they were chatty, they had a laugh, they were real and that made it all seem so much more attainable.

Given a blank sheet of paper what would be your favourite event to work on?

I always wanted to work on a World Cup.  I remember being taken to the Irish Club in Australia in 1990 but I was only six so it was USA ’94 that I have my first real full memories from and it has always been very special.  Getting the chance to work on that this year really was amazing.

But if I had to pick one that I’ve never worked on and which would be a total fantasy it would have to be Superbowl.  It is without a shadow of a great the single biggest sports spectacular of the year.

I did my internship near New Orleans and I got to go to it there in 2013.  We flew out and got tickets and it was unbelievable.  It was the year the lights went out and it was just an experience you would never forget.  Everything is for sale, it’s an incredible thing to be involved in and that would be a dream, probably an impossible one, to work at one at some point.

What is the photo screen saver on your phone?

It’s a family photo of when we went on a very special trip to New Zealand, Dubai and Thailand for six weeks.  Shane, myself and the two kids and this was taken downtown in Bangkok.

Family is really important and I like to have those memories of special moments.

Have you any superstitions or routines before going on air?

My brother Seanie was killed in an accident in 2011.  We got these wristbands made up which say Seanie 109, his racing number, and I generally wear that on air.  Sometimes you can see it, sometimes you can’t.  And if I’m not wearing it, it will be on the desk.

It’s a reminder that I’m doing a thing I love and that’s something he can’t do.  It’s just there and it’s something that I’ll glance at if you’re about to do something and you’re not quite sure if you’ll make a mess of it or whatever.  I’ll give a small glance and it just makes me think, you’ll be grand.

Other than that I’d be pretty relaxed.

Who’s the most natural pundit you’ve worked with?

I really love Derval O’Rourke.  She’s very honest, she might think maybe a bit too much at times, but she calls it as she sees it and would never be afraid to say that’s not good enough.  I love that.  Ronan O’Gara is another one, maybe it’s a Cork thing, he will just call something out, regardless of who it is.

In terms then of someone being seamless between who they are on air and off the air, I’d say Anthony Daly.  The passion he has is exactly the same whether the red light is on or not.  There’s nothing put on with him and probably John Mullane.  Totally into their sport, totally passionate in terms of what they feel and how they say it. I love working with both of them.

What would be your chosen sporting sideline when you are not working?

To be honest, if I’m off at a weekend it’s as likely to be the beach, the playground or the zoo. The kids are young and they know I’m at matches all the time so maybe it’s nothing special to them.

We brought Luke to the All Ireland Hurling semi-final last year between Cork and Waterford but sure once the marching bands and the jellies are gone… He’s not quite old enough yet.

I do still love going though.  I’m still playing a bit of Camogie and I’m going back to play a bit of Basketball this year.  It’s hard with two small kids but I really miss the playing, for me, so if I’m on a sideline where I’m involved, that would be it for me.

What’s your favourite social media?

I’d say Instagram.  I love twitter for the news or ‘watching a match’ but with Instagram, it’s a bit more relaxed.  A picture really does tell a thousand words.  It’s easy.

Who do you admire in the media outside of your one organisation?

I’ve always liked Matt Cooper.  He’s always been strong about who he is.  Great interviewer and a sharp wit.  I always enjoy listening to him.

Give us a sporting sponsorship that you think works well.

Hard to name one but it has really changed.  Activations have become much more important.  It used to be a case of money and logo and sometimes you’d turn up for an interview and the player would be saying OK what is it I’m supposed to say but now it’s a lot more imaginative and they seem more into it.

Aviva going in with the Women’s soccer team was important in the same way that Lidl has been with Ladies Football.

Give us one example you’ve seen of the power of sport in a wider context.

Summer sports camps.  We have a huge problem with health and obesity and having kids out there moving, in whatever sport, is really important.  The Daily Mile is an interesting idea as well and initiatives at a community level, being backed across a community is really massive.

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Image Credits: RTÉ, Morgan Treacy and Dan Sheridan, Inpho.ie

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