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'I had the idea in the queue for the supermarket' - The making of the iconic 2020 Sunday Game montage

RTÉ Sport sub-editor Elaine Buckley produced an incredible promo piece, which went down a treat at the weekend.

Updated May 11th 2020, 9:31 PM

WHAT SHOULD HAVE been the opening weekend of the All-Ireland championships and of course, The Sunday Game, ended up being very different.

Screenshot 2020-05-09 at 10.43.16 The closing shot from the incredible Sunday Game montage which RTÉ Sport sub-editor Elaine Buckley produced. Source: RTÉ Sport.

Yes, RTÉ’s iconic Gaelic Games programme went ahead in these surreal times yesterday, but instead of showing live coverage from championship openers in the white-hot heat of battle and then a highlights package of the weekend’s action, we watched matches from the archives. Hearing that iconic theme tune should signal the start of summer, but it certainly didn’t last night.

Many of us had seen it already after it was posted on social media on Saturday morning, but moments into the show we again watched the incredible promotion video, produced by RTÉ Sport sub-editor Elaine Buckley.

Goosebumps once again. 

A tingle down the spine.

And maybe even a tear or two.

Buckley produces these montages week in, week out through the sporting calendar, but was afforded a little more time for this one in the current climate. Normally, in the run-up to The Sunday Game’s opening weekend, she’s spinning plates and under pressure time-wise, but she had a little more breathing space to hone her craft this time around.

“It depends on what you’re teeing up,” she tells The42, detailing what producing a video or an opener like this entails. 

“It could be a tournament, it could be a specific match, it just depends on the event. In this instance, we were teeing up an archive series of The Sunday Game. It’s very unusual territory.

“On the opening weekend of GAA championship, you’d always have your main championship opener, you might have a hurling opener, a football opener and it’s normally a very, very busy week in terms of production and all the other things that go into that from a Sunday Game point-of-view.

“In this instance, it was just very different.”

At first, herself and her colleagues were unsure whether a promo for the programme was required at all, or even appropriate. They discussed how they’d approach it and idea generation began.

Everyone was left to their own devices, and Buckley’s lightbulb moment came in the most mundane of places.

“I had the idea for it in the queue for the supermarket actually,” she laughs, “which is where I find I’m doing a lot of work at the moment. An hour-long queue for Dunnes to go and get the shopping for my Mam and Dad was where I had the idea for it.

“For me, when making something like this, the music always comes first. If you get the music right then the rest just kind of follows. Everyone would work in different ways but I’d be very, very passionate about music. It would probably be my second love after sport, I used to work as a music journalist. That’s the way I approach it.

I have a playlist on my phone, basically called, ‘Tracks for TV,’ songs that I think would work. When I hear them, I just add to it. I was in the queue for Dunnes, looking through the list and I had Don Henley’s version of The Boys of Summer on it.”

It’s a song she actually considered using in wrap-up of the 2018 Munster hurling championship but in the end, she went with something else and she never looked back. But as she scrolled down her playlist that April afternoon, it jumped out.

Then she remembered that Bell X1, one of her favourite bands, did a “gorgeous” cover of it a few years back, and sure enough, it was on Soundcloud.

“The way Paul Noonan sings the song, he does a total key shift on the verses so they sound that bit more sad. I was listening to the lyrics, and the lyric that really stood out to me was, ‘The summer is out of reach.’ Because it is.

“Anyone who’s involved in sport, the entire summer has just crumbled in front of us. It really is quite sad. Whether you’re involved in playing, management, media, a fan, a club player, whatever it is, the fact that there’s no Gaelic Games summer this year is just desperately sad and people are struggling with it because it’s such a big part of our lives.

That line of the song stood out to me: ‘There’s something in the air and the summer is out of reach.‘ It kind of sums it up.

As bits and pieces came together in her head, she later pitched her era-hopping idea to the programme editor and the series producer. They liked it, the green light was given and Buckley got to work.

Sticking with the music, that edit comes first. Ideally, the song is cut to two to two-and-a-half minutes and just the relevant lyrics are kept. In this case, the whole third verse was dropped, while the first two verses and choruses came together perfectly.

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 17.07.10 'We're going to do it,' says Ger Loughnane. Source: RTÉ Sport.

With the music at two minutes and 15 seconds, the next step was finding a home for some famous commentary, though there wasn’t a whole pile of space around the lyrics of the song.

“When I made the initial pitch, the phrase that I had in my head was, ‘This too shall pass,’” the Dubliner recalls. “I remembered a piece of commentary that Marty Morrissey did for the 2017 Leinster hurling final; the year that Wexford got back, the whole county just lost their minds and like 60,000 came up to Croke Park.

“The atmosphere was incredible. Just before throw-in in that match, Marty’s talking about the Wexford fans, what they’ve brought to the day and how much it would mean to them and he says: ‘This is spiritual, this is emotional, this is about pride… this is hurling.’ 

I just love that line of commentary so I wanted to take that, lose the last bit ‘This is hurling’ and then just bring in, ‘This too shall pass’ in text. I had already earmarked that for the end section.

Then, she wanted the soundbites in the middle section instrumental to reflect these tough times.

“We’re all in this absolutely crap situation. We’re all in the same storm but we’re certainly not in the same boat and everyone’s struggling with it but we just have to do it. That’s Loughnane saying, ‘We’re going to do it.

We all have this collective goal so that’s the line of commentary from Seamus Darby’s goal, ‘A goal, a goal, oh what a goal.’ Then John Mullane saying, ‘I love me county…’ we all love our counties, we’d all love to be going to support them or going to watch them.

“And Joe Connolly from Galway’s win in 1980 just saying, ‘We love you,’ because the counties love their fans back. It kind of worked when I fit them all into that one section and then just brought other shots in around them. It came together well.”

Music, commentary and then finally, pictures.

Again, everyone would have their own individual approach.

“I handwrite the lyrics of the song and just get it all down on paper, what the lyrics trigger for me,” Buckley explains.

Screenshot 2020-05-11 at 17.13.55 'I love me county' - John Mullane. Source: RTÉ Sport.

“I needed as many shots as possible from as many different eras and famous faces taken in provincial championships and the All-Ireland championships across all four codes. Then you begin what can sometimes be needle-in-a-haystack of trying to find the shots that you want.

It’s very time-consuming, to be honest. Given the way people are adapting to working remotely, the pace that you’d be used to just sometimes doesn’t apply to certain aspects of production.”

She tried to picture up the opening verse: ‘Nobody on the road, nobody on the beach, there’s something in the air, the summer’s out of reach.’ Normally for a season opener, she would do a shoot and get exactly what she wanted for her storyboard, but in these circumstances there’s no filming.

Instead, she had to trawl through disks and disks of existing scenic and GAA facility shots in the RTÉ archive. With that first verse complete and cut, she showed it to her colleague, Jacqui Hurley, in the office that day.

Here, will you have a look at this and tell me if it’s just too much misery?

“No. That works. Just keep it.”

After the scenic shots were sorted, it was back on the archive trawl for moments that chanced Gaelic games forever. Frustrating at times, she grins, sharing examples of how difficult it can be to find the exact footage of the lasting picture in your mind.

Eventually, the full picture cut came to fruition. Buckley showed it to two of her colleagues to make sure she wasn’t missing anything obvious. That’s common practice, as something could easily be accidentally left out.

The finished product was set in stone there and then. Fully locked and loaded, the piece was sent to the graphics and sound mix where pictures were polished up, and text, flash transitions and other sound effects added.

“They kind of give it the nice, final flourishes to make me look good!”

juliet-murphy Cork great Juliet Murphy. Source: Andrew Paton/INPHO

Well, everything certainly looked more than good when it was posted on Saturday morning, and in turn, viewed and shared thousands and thousands of times on social media. And it somehow looked even better on the television screen last night.

The reaction has been something else, Buckley nods.

“It’s weird because we make features like this all the time across all sports, but the sporting calendar is so busy.

“Even if you take a sample championship week in GAA, by the time you get through all the newspaper columns, all the radio items, all the podcasts and you get to television, you just want to see the matches. Sometimes these pieces, they don’t take off like that.

Getting to tee up big matches, tournaments and events is my favourite part of my job but I think the reaction to it really shows just where the country’s at at the moment. Everyone’s just had to stop and it’s not by choice but it’s as decree of what’s going on in the country and the world.

“You think about what this weekend should have been — the championship openers in football and hurling, busy provincial grounds and travel around the country, Sunday Sport on the radio and hopping between all the different matches, double-headers live on TV.

“It was really heightened this weekend that that’s gone and we’re not going to have it this summer, and I think that’s what that promo really hit on. It was like, ‘Okay, people are starved of sport, here’s two minutes of sport that I can look at on my phone.’ If it gave even two minutes and 15 seconds of distraction to some people who are really missing their sport then happy days. Job done.”

With Ladies football and camogie represented proportionally alongside Gaelic football and hurling, that’s not something Buckley — a vocal advocate for a level playing field — intentionally planned but it’s something that was noted quite a lot on Twitter.

“I think it’s probably the way I’m wired, it’s not something that I overly dwelled on,” she says. “To be honest, I was kind of expecting a bit of pushback on that from the great commenters of the internet, first of all because of the song selection. 

It’s called Boys of Summer but when you actually listen to the lyrics, the word boys is the least relevant of what that song is saying and how it ties into what’s going on now. But also mainly because when you’re only showing four iconic goals and one of them is a woman, or five significant trophy lifts and one of them is a woman.

“I don’t know, we’re just conditioned to expect stuff like that. But I did not get one negative comment in that regard, actually zero, and I went through them all. Women are a massive part of the GAA; you go into any club, committees, teams across the board, women are a massive part of the GAA and that has to be reflected.”

She realises she brought many feelings to many people and is grateful for the incredible reaction. Her phone never stopped all weekend and it’s something she couldn’t get away from, but it’s an experience she’ll certainly treasure going forward and a memory she’ll hold closely from this strange time.

elaine-buckley Elaine Buckley. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

“Ah, it was great. To be honest, we were so busy with the first programme that I didn’t really get to enjoy it on the day it went out because I was very busy in work.

“But I came home that evening at about eight o’clock, I just sat down and went through everything. It’s just very nice to know that people appreciate it and it does kind of hone in on that very special aspect of the GAA, which is community at the heart of it.

We’re all going to miss it so bad, we’ve never not had a championship summer in our lifetime. But you have to keep belief that it will pass and that hopefully, be it in the autumn or next spring, whenever games resume, we will get them back.

For now, it’s about focusing on the “strange” experience of working on The Sunday Game with no live action, considering the madness surrounding the usual summer championship weekend. 

When working on the live programme, everything would have to be finished up on the Friday night before hitting the road on Saturday morning. Games would be covered both days so teasers, interview packages and pre-match analysis would have to be ready in good time because they’re brought on the road.

“The travel element is a big thing, and that’s one thing that I’ll really, really miss: just getting in the car at stupid o’clock in the morning with all my colleagues and driving down to Páirc Uí Chaoimh or MacHale Park or wherever it may be,” she concludes.

“It’s a change but sure look, I’m just delighted that we can do something and that we can work on archive matches like that.”

As our conversation ends, Buckley tells me she’s supermarket-bound once again.

She’s surely mustered up another genius idea since, and we’re already looking forward to the next emotional montage.

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Emma Duffy

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