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'I wouldn't care if it was a blizzard, I'd happily stand there' - presenting live GAA in stormy weather

Gráinne McElwain and Joanne Cantwell speak to The42 about presenting the coverage in horrible conditions.

Updated Nov 9th 2020, 9:47 PM

WHEN GRÁINNE MCELWAIN was first announced as the new presenter of Sky’s GAA coverage for the 2020 season, she thought she was heading for the comforts of a warm studio.

sky-sports-gaa-championship-launch Sky Sports GAA presenter Gráinne McElwain. Source: Brendan Moran/SPORTSFILE

The Monaghan native had been brought in as the new anchor having clocked up 15 years of sports broadcasting service for channels like eir Sport, RTÉ and TG4.

During that time, she’s been exposed to all sorts of inclement weather while working pitch-side at GAA games. Nothing surprised her about the mood wings in the Irish climate. Even the seasonal bouts of sunshine you expect in the summer time haven’t always turned up for her.

It’s still early doors for this year’s GAA championship which was delayed by Covid-19, but McElwain is well off the mark in the driver’s set of Sky’s coverage.

The ongoing threat of the virus means the use of an indoor studio is off limits, and McElwain must keep a two-metre distance from the analysts during the live broadcasts.

At a time when the GAA has been through a major shake-up, Sky’s GAA coverage has brought McElwain back to her roots.

“I’m used to being outside in all types of weather,” she tells The42. ”In that respect, it doesn’t really change very much for me.

In terms of being at the matches, it’s such an honour and a privilege to be there and it’s eerie not having fans, but you can just tell how much all the games mean to the players and the management.

“You can hear how vocal they are on the sideline, and you can hear what they’re saying.”

Presenter Joanne Cantwell is out in the fresh air too for the Sunday Game’s offering of live games. Their outdoor set is more noticeable than normal on TV due to the lack of a crowd, but they’ve used it at plenty of venues in the past.

Similar to McElwain, she’s already experienced some horrible weather conditions at matches in this year’s championship.

RTÉ’s flagship GAA programme picked up the Munster SHC semi-final between Limerick and Tipperary last weekend, a game which was marred somewhat by the persistent rain.

Cantwell was also on presenting duty for yesterday’s epic Munster SFC semi-final where Cork sensationally dumped Kerry out of the championship with a last-minute goal from Mark Keane.

The game was played in biblical levels of rain. Clouds of mist formed at times during the match, while the live television signal dropped momentarily due to the unrelenting conditions. 

You might think that she’s still trying to get her body temperature back to a normal level after those two bitterly wet days, but Cantwell assures that it wasn’t as bad as it looked.

“That is a question I’ve been asked so many times since the previous weekend. But the funny thing is that it was reasonably mild both those days, especially the first day.

For the time of year, it was actually pretty mild. It was insanely mild but it wasn’t that cold. I have several layers that I bring everywhere with me and different levels of warmth. I’ve been in way colder, and I’m going to be in way colder in the next few weeks.

“For some reason, I suppose it was really, really stormy but the weather seemed to really catch everybody’s eyes.”

That’s not to suggest that the conditions haven’t had any impact on her this season. She says that she was preparing her notes for the half-time chat of one of the games, only to see that they had “disintegrated into about five different pieces” due to the rain.

As for that shock result in Páirc Uí Chaoimh yesterday, Cantwell says that she didn’t quite believe Kerry could lose until the dying embers of the game.

They didn’t get to hear the normal roar of applause that follows such a result at the final whistle, but she was able to appreciate the intimate celebrations among the Cork players on the pitch.

I remember I turned around with about five minutes of extra-time to go and Colm Cooper was the one closest to me. I said, ‘Colm, do you think Kerry could actually lose this game?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, I do.’

“But I never… Even though it was all square at the end of the 70 minutes and even though there was only a point it at half-time in extra-time, it never occurred to me that Kerry would actually lose, until about five minutes to go.

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“And then when the goal went in, there was just this gasp of utter shock. It was a brilliant moment, what a way to win a game. A terrible way to lose a game.

“And we could actually hear them, I don’t know if they were screaming or cheering behind us at one stage. There may have been no fans there but you could still get this feeling coming from the Cork players as they were out on the pitch afterwards, which was brilliant.”

For both Cantwell and McElwain, they only have minor adjustments to make in fulfilling their jobs under Covid conditions.

Filling out health questionnaires, wearing masks and arriving to matches earlier than they usually would are among the key steps they have to take.

But both Sky and RTÉ have implemented many changes in the background to ensure their reformatted coverage runs smoothly.

“Behind the scenes, the adjustments they’ve had to make have been monumental, ” Cantwell explains, “particularly for the Sunday Game night programme.

“Last night, they had 13 different games across football, hurling and camogie. Some nights, it can get to over 20.

“In the past, you’d wander into the outside broadcast trucks to say hello but you can’t go near it now because you’re not allowed into it. The only people allowed in there and are the ones who are assigned to it and they obviously have all the screens there.

You think we’re bad outside, all the doors and windows are wide open in the trucks. So whatever cold wind is blowing, is blowing into them.”

Speaking about her own experience of Sky’s outside broadcasts, McElwain says:

“Once you’re inside, you’re inside. You can’t really go out very much and do other things. You’re there a bit earlier but in terms of the practicalities of getting mic’d up, ear pieces and microphones – we have our own individual one and we bring it with us every week.”

Screenshot 2020-11-09 at 6.55.13 PM

When asked about their general feeling towards being at the coalface of the GAA coverage this year, both presenters say they feel grateful and lucky to be there.

They’re among the few who can actually attend the games, while loyal fans all over the country are forced to watch the games from home. Losing the luxury of an indoor studio is a small price to pay for that privilege. 

“How many people in this county would swap positions with me in a heartbeat, and they wouldn’t care,” says Cantwell.

Do you want to be in a stuffy studio watching the game on the tele or do you want to be out? I wouldn’t care if it was a blizzard, I’d happily stand there if I got to see Cian Lynch and Noel McGrath going head to head.

“I would bite your hand off to be there rather than be sitting inside somewhere.”

Originally published at 18.30

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Subscribe to The42′s new member-led GAA Championship show with Marc Ó Sé and Shane Dowling. 

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