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'The biggest thing with women's sport is if you show it to them, they're going to go, 'Alright, it actually is good''

Jacqui Hurley is gearing up to be front-and-centre of the Women’s World Cup coverage on these shores.

Jacqui Hurley.
Jacqui Hurley.

AMID THE HUSTLE and bustle, the noise and the colour, the excitement and enthusiasm, RTÉ presenter and broadcaster Jacqui Hurley tells an important story.

This evening, the 2019 Fifa Women’s World Cup kicks off in France with the hosts opening their campaign against South Korea at the Park des Princes [KO 8pm, TG4]. While Ireland won’t be there, the country has the golden opportunity to watch every single minute of action with RTÉ and TG4 joining forces to bring all 52 matches to our screens.

The networks launched their historic, and ground-breaking, coverage in Dublin on Tuesday with Hurley conducting formalities from the stage. The music blared, the footballs flew around the room with the next generation of young female stars right in the thick of it. 

Hurley, a former basketball and camogie star herself, promised that they’d treat this tournament in the exact same way the male equivalent is covered. Don’t compare though, judge it on it’s own merits. That’s what must be done if stories like the following are to be avoided going forward.

A few weeks back she overheard her five-year-old son, Luke, and his seven-year-old friend, Ivana, arguing whilst on a trip to the zoo.

Girls are better, boys are better, girls are better, boys are better… 

It finished with Ivana saying, ‘Luke, you’re right. Boys are better’. Hurley had wandered over to hear more, and immediately intervened after that comment.

I heard her say that, and I said, ‘Ivana, why do you think boys are better?’ And she said, ‘Because boys’ matches are on TV.’ I just thought, ‘Jesus, how has society taught a seven-year-old girl that this is what is known.

“This is going to go a long way in changing that,” she added from the stage, referring to the Women’s World Cup coverage.

“I’m not saying that one tournament is going to change everything but it is going to open people’s minds to the possibility that we can change. This is one step, but I do think it’s going to be a very big step.”

RTÉ and TG4 launch coverage as they bring  FIFA Women's World Cup free-to-air to Irish screens for the first time Hurley with Stephanie Roche and young kids at the launch. Source: Donall Farmer

In conversation with The42 shortly after, the zoo trip comes up in conversation once again. As if you couldn’t tell already, it’s glaringly obvious now how much that hurts — and concerns — Hurley, who’ll be front-and-centre of RTÉ’s studio team as presenter.

“Ah. Seriously. That was only six weeks ago, that’s real,” she frowns.

Honestly, I nearly cried when that happened and I really mean that. I went home in the car with Luke that day and I was like, ‘Luke, just so you know, girls’ matches are on TV and girls are as good as boys’. He was like, ‘I know Mommy, I know’. I was like, ‘Good, because you need to know that’.

“How has society taught a seven-year-old girl that that’s the norm? That’s what I’d be worried about.

“I have lots of other projects on the go trying to help that, but just right now, I think that we need to look at their [young girls'] mindset. We need to help them see that there is a pathway for them.

“Maybe for you and me, when we were kids we didn’t have the same pathways that they do, but I think we need to show them that now. I wouldn’t say it’s an obligation on all of us but I definitely would like to be involved in having them see that.

That day made me so sad at the zoo. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ivana after that, this poor seven-year-old. I was there going, ‘Jesus, I hope she realises that this can change’. New life ahead.

New life ahead, indeed.

As Hurley says herself, she didn’t think she’d see this as a child. Women’s football, live and free-to-air on terrestrial television, and particularly a tournament without Ireland.

How exciting must this be to be leading the coverage, front-and-centre, the face of it to many day in, day out?

“Do you know what,” she smiles, “it’s so exciting because I didn’t think… For some reason, I think when you’re younger it’s hard to see a day that we’re going to be here, where we’re going to be showing a women’s football [tournament] — especially one that Ireland aren’t in.

“I’m kind of just proud that we’ve invested in it anyway, that we’re going for it. It does kind of feel like it’s a proper sea-change. I don’t know if you notice that around the place, but I do think this year in particular, people are actually really genuinely getting behind it. It’s so exciting. 

For us when we were kids, Sonia O’Sullivan was on the TV but that was it. Imagine being 10 years of age now and all the role models that you have. It’s such an amazing time to be a young girl. I’m just so proud to be involved in something that they’re going to see.

She’s keen to emphasise that RTÉ will be treating this tournament the exact same way as the men’s. Take for instance last summer’s edition in Russia. Again, Ireland weren’t there but expect the same level of scrutiny and analysis. 

That was a big thing for Cork native Hurley when the wheels were set in motion.

“That’s so important for me,” she says of the coverage. “If I thought we were going into this thing half-arsed, I wouldn’t want to be on it. I genuinely would prefer to step away from it.

“One of the things when they [RTÉ] asked me were we doing it, I said, ‘Who’s on it and what are we doing?’ The assured me. They said, ‘This will be the same as we did the men’s’.

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RTÉ and TG4 launch coverage as they bring  FIFA Women's World Cup free-to-air to Irish screens for the first time RTÉ's first game is Norway v Nigeria tomorrow night. Source: Donall Farmer

“We’ve got our G-drive set up with all our matches that all our pundits can watch. We’ve got top analysis in the game. Even last year you saw in the men’s World Cup, we had the likes of Louise Quinn and Steph Roche in, so they know what they’re doing now. It’s not fresh, it’s not like we’re throwing them all on the TV and letting them sink or swim. We’ve actually trained these people, they know what they’re doing, they’ve provided quality analysis for our team before and they’re going to do it again.

“Also, it’s not just women. Colin Bell is going to be on which is brilliant, Richie Sadlier and Kevin Doyle are going to do it. If you look at the way men’s sport has gone now, a lot of female pundits have started coming into the men’s game and it’s the norm. We should do that the other way as well. Richie and Kevin are going to put in the same work as they put into the men’s World Cup.

I think that is what is going to make this tournament special, because people are going to turn on the TV and it’s going to feel like they could be watching a men’s game, all be it a very different style. 

She’s welcomes the partnership with TG4, the ‘positive solution’ that arose when RTÉ realised they couldn’t do it all alone. For example, Ireland and Demark’s Euro 2020 qualifying clash tonight means that the opener will be on TG4.

Hurley is happy they’re covering it from the get-go, and the fact that kick-off times coincide with prime time TV makes it all the better.

She believes that even though Ireland aren’t there, people will get behind this tournament. And with RTÉ and TG4 there right the way through, the opportunities are endless.

“Okay, we have probably got on the back in the past few years of things where Ireland started going well — take the hockey for instance, all of a sudden they go on a run,” she concedes.

“You get criticised for bandwagon stuff, but equally you probably deserve some praise for jumping on it, saying, ‘Listen, this is an important thing for the nation and people need to see this’.

“But I do think the level of investment here, where RTÉ and TG4 are saying, ‘Listen, here, this thing is going to be a major global tournament. Let’s have a look, let’s show people’ [is huge].

I actually think the biggest thing with women’s sport is if you show it to them, then they’re going to go, ‘Alright, it actually is good,’” she concludes.

“I hate the idea that people criticise something that they’ve never seen. I think this summer, people are going to get an idea, they’re going to see it and then they’re going to go, ‘Oh Jesus, this thing’s actually a lot better than what I thought.’”

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