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Laszlo Geczo/INPHO It is set to be a quiet few weeks on the sporting front in Ireland.
'Just because there's no live sport, that doesn't mean we're stopping' - Sports media versus the shutdown
Media outlets across Ireland are finding ways to adapt to a world without live sport.

AS SPORTING EVENTS trickled away one by one over the last few days, sports desks across Ireland have all been having the same thought:

“What on earth are we going to do for the next few weeks?”

With virtually no live sport set to take place until at least the end of March, the period ahead will present unprecedented challenges for sports media outlets.

“From a local paper’s perspective, on a Friday evening I try to plan out next week’s issue, and there’s so many blank spaces because the staple parts of our local sports diet, from the West Cork league to the schoolboys league, to GAA, to local rugby, it’s all gone,” explains Kieran McCarthy, Sports Editor of The Southern Star.

“Yesterday I was emailing around trying to get the plans in place, and then it all went pear-shaped,” adds Ger Lawton, Sports Editor of the Waterford News and Star.

“The snow a couple of years ago was the only thing that came close to this. It’s certainly strange for us, but you just have to drive on.”

Yet amid all the confusion, there is a sense of opportunity.

Opportunity to tell stories that rarely get told, or dig into old ideas that got lost to the day to day demands of covering sport.

“What it needs is for us just to be more inventive, get around to those features and opinion pieces, ideas and interviews that we might not have time for in the normal run of things,” McCarthy says.

“Cork is a fierce busy county, for GAA especially. Once the championships starts up you barely have breathing space from one week to the next. So at the moment there is a lot of breathing space there, probably way too much, so it gives us a chance to delve more into stories that we might not normally get the chance to cover.”

Presenting a live radio show to a nationwide audience presents an altogether different challenge.

“I was at a Jack Byrne and Stephen Bradley press conference at Shamrock Rovers on Thursday at 9.30am, and by lunchtime pretty much the whole two interviews were out of date because the League of Ireland was suspended,” says Marie Crowe, presenter of RTÉ 2FM’s Game On.

Once the initial panic of having no live sport eased, the chance to try something a bit different has added an element of excitement to the situation.

a-view-dalymount-park-as-the-coronavirus-brings-a-stop-to-all-irish-sport-until-at-least-march-29th Ryan Byrne / INPHO The League of Ireland has been suspended for two weeks. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Newspapers will have to become more creative in how they fill their pages. Radio and podcast outlets will continue to produce content. 

It’s no different at The42, where all staff are working away from home, fully armed with podcasting equipment and whatever else may come in useful during the shutdown, as well as dusting down old notebooks in search of inspiration.

With the calendar cleared, sports media has no option but to think outside the box.

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“Straight away I was getting on to the different contributors,” McCarthy continues.

“I was saying ‘Put your thinking caps on, there are great stories around, throw me ideas.’

“It’s important to say we will have a Southern Star sport section next week, and the week after, and the week after that. Just because there is no live sport there, it doesn’t mean that we are stopping. It’s quite the opposite actually. We have to work almost twice as hard now because those certainties are gone.”

While many local newspapers will busy themselves digging for local angles, others will look to put a regional spin on bigger events.

“Cheltenham was a bit of a God send for us,” says Lawton.

“We’re lucky enough that Henry De Bromhead had a good week, so that will be a couple of pages for us anyway. Then Al Boum Photo won the Gold Cup, and he won his last two prep races out in Tramore, so they are the kind of little connections we’ll be looking at. 

“There will be plenty of opinion pieces too. Paul Flynn [former Waterford hurler], who is a columnist for us, will write whatever he wants to get off his chest, GAA or non-GAA.  

“No-one has a clue what going to happen, so all we can do is do the best we can.”

“I have 10 years as a feature writer with the Sunday Independent, and it’s kind of almost the same as being a feature writer now,” adds Crowe.

“It’s trying to think of things a bit outside the box, be creative and come up with things that aren’t fixture-dependant, which I had to do in the Sunday Indo all the time. 

“Then there’s lists of features you might have wanted to do. Like Katy Herron, who is out playing AFL in Australia. She moved over with her son, and I’ve always wanted to give her a call and have a good chat with her, so now I’ll get to do things like that.”

The Southern Star team already have their eyes on a number of stories which have piqued their interest. 

“We’re trying to put a positive spin on it,” McCarthy says.

“There’s lot of great local stories out there in West Cork, and it should be the same in every county in the country.

“For example, in Bantry the women’s basketball team got back together for the first time in 20 years and they recently won the Division 1 championship final. The oldest lady on that team is 60. There’s a mother and daughter playing on that team, there’s teachers and students on that team. It’s a brilliant local story for a local newspaper. So it gives us a chance to tell those.”

Crowe shares a similar view.

“There’s so many good stories out there, and the stories aren’t going anywhere, so it’s giving us the opportunity to tell them and talk about them, and also keep people updated,” she says.

“We know UEFA are going to have their meeting on Tuesday, so that will be news, and there will be news all the time. People are going to be interested and will want to tune in to the radio because they’ll want to know what is happening. Even from an athlete’s point of view, communication probably isn’t brilliant, they are probably finding out a lot of things on the airwaves as well.” 

And, despite all the cancellations and postponements, The Southern Star still expect to have some live sport in their next edition.

“In West Cork there is a sport called road bowling,” McCarthy explains.

“It’s very much a Cork sport, and up north as well in Armagh, and as far as I know that’s not gone just yet. They are still planning to hold small scores, which are matches, this weekend. That’s out on the open road. You might only have a couple of people at it. So we could have live action from the road bowling scene this weekend.”

The postponements might be coming thick and fast, but the sporting world never really stops.

Sometimes you just need to dig a little deeper.

– First published 08.30, 14 March

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