Nemeton Spotlight Feature: Marcus Ó Buachalla

August 03 2022 | Posted in: Staff Stuff
Nemeton Spotlight Feature: Marcus Ó Buachalla

This week in our Spotlight Series we hear from GAA BEO commentator and presenter Marcus Ó Buachalla.

I first started working as a presenter with Setanta Sports back in 2006. I was working as a trainee solicitor at the time and I had been doing some local media work with Raidió na Life in Dublin presenting an Irish language weekly sports show with John Barker called An Fheadóg Dheireannach and I was asked would I be interested in doing some pieces with Setanta Sports.

The approach was from Maurice Reidy, a legend of the broadcasting world in RTÉ initially and he would have worked on many a big GAA game and event for RTÉ. He then moved to Setanta but I was good friends with his son Muiris, and that’s where the chat started. I still remember calling up to their house to have the conversation with Maurice. I was nervous but I suppose he thought there might be something in it and we had a chat.

I was given permission to do that while doing my traineeship and then I started picking up other bits and pieces. Writing for Foinse or writing for the Irish Daily Star and their Irish language sports pull-out Am Breise and just adding little bits of experience to my CV all the while.

Then in 2011, RTÉ lost the rights to host the All-Ireland Minor Finals as gaeilge and they were taken by TV3. By now the recession had hit and I was no longer working as a solicitor and had instead moved into the world of communications and PR working with a company in Dublin, Pembroke Communications. I was working primarily on their sports accounts so I was now starting to merge my love of sport with a day job.

This time I made the approach to TV3 as I wanted to see was there an opportunity to throw my hat in the ring for any work that TV3 might have as Gaeilge so I contacted Kieran McSweeney who was working for their sports news team at the time. That started the ball rolling and I had to go in and do a trial and I worked with Kieran Holden on that.

I have a lot to be thankful for the breaks that Kieran and indeed Maurice before gave me.

My first game was the 2011 All-Ireland Minor Hurling Final, between Dublin and Galway, in Croke Park, and it was myself and Seán Óg Ó hAiplín and a few weeks later I was doing the football with Seán Óg de Paor. It was quite the baptism of fire. Such an occasion and working then with two of the greats of the GAA and two men that I would have watched growing up.

It was though a bit awkward because I actually had to turn down a wedding invitation from my good friend Muiris in Italy! But at least I could blame it on his dad Maurice and that approach all those years earlier. Thankfully he didn’t and hasn’t held it against me!

From there I got a call from TG4, or to be precise Nemeton TV, who produce a lot of their GAA content and they asked would I be interested in some more. Once TV3 didn’t have an issue, I was clear to crack on and I’ve been doing it ever since.

Since those early days in 2011, I’ve worked with RTÉ, GAA Go, SKY Sports, Eir Sports, Dubs TV and of course TG4 and I still love it. I was clearing out my attic though recently and I found a letter that I wrote to TG4 looking for opportunities in 2001 I think it was, which nothing came of. So I guess it goes to show you that these things don’t happen overnight and you just have to find a way in and persevere. But once you’re in, and working on live TV, live sport, and the action and the energy that goes with it, you’re hooked. And I’m forever grateful to Maurice Reidy and that first call.

The typical day starts during the week with the prep and that is the bit that makes the typical day run smoothly. There are so many things that can happen on match day that are out of your control but at least you can have your research done and be at ease with the information you have because ultimately that is what will get you through the 60 or the 70 minutes!

For a game with GAA Beo, and on the basis that my research is done, the day starts with a trip! I am based in Dublin so it’s a road trip for me usually although a train can be handy too. The plan is to be in the ground two hours out from a game. That gives you a chance to get ahead of the traffic for a start, to get your bearings on arrival, and just to be nice and calm and relaxed pre-game. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with the wider team too. My work as a commentator is only a tiny piece of the output.

The technicians, the camera operators, the riggers, the engineers, the production team etc. They all play a key role and then the Floor Manager. He or she is my eyes and ears on the ground during the game and a source for any team information during play so always good to have a chat and a cuppa ahead of the game.

Finally it’s a chance to catch up with my co-commentator. Sometimes I mightn’t have worked with the person ever before and while you are not expected to be best mates straight away, a rapport is important and just as important is having an understanding for how they speak, their flow, their timing and the pace of their delivery.

When the game is in full flow there is no time to figure all that out so it’s good to have these chats good and early and iron out any issues.My aim as the commentator though, is just to set the scene. I may have opinions on what I have seen but nobody cares really about my take on it. My job is to leave a gap for the co-commentator to bring their experience, knowledge and expertise to the table. If I am still talking while the replay is on, I feel I have done a bad job. That should be left for my co-commentator to tell us what he or she sees in that clip. It’s for me to make that conversation and transition as smooth as possible between live and replays throughout the game.

Before the game, we would also have a production meeting on arrival to make sure everyone is familiar with the roll-out of the day and it is planned to the second. How long for this bit and that bit and when you need to talk and sometimes more importantly when to shut up!

Being there early also allows you the chance to walk the grounds, get a feel for the pitch, the wind, the conditions and even to see the players up close as they do their walk about or warm-ups. You’d pick up little things here and there, or spot certain things there that you wouldn’t if you were arriving later to the ground.

The final element before the commentary is usually a scene set and managers’ interviews. A scene set is exactly what it says on the tin! Myself and my co-commentator setting the scene and giving context for the day’s game which we will do pitchside and often times with Micheál Ó Domhnaill based elsewhere you would be chatting to him too. And then the manager’s interview pre-game. These are a mixed bag! At the end of the day we all have a job to do but you are in their pre-match space when their tension levels are rising so you want to get some level of insight but you also have to be respectful of where their heads are at. You will also be dealing with them post-match as well so there is no point falling out now!

To be fair, the PROs and the managers of all the counties are great and while there are times when I understand they would rather be out there and amongst their players rather than talking to me, I also feel that they get it from my side and we all know we have a job to do to promote our games and to provide additional access and insight for the people back home.

Then it’s time for throw in!

My notes have changed a lot over the years. I remember at the start, I would easily have six, seven, eight pages of notes on the two teams playing. But I have learned from experience that you can’t keep flipping pages to check things, and plus, your eyes need to be on the action not on your notes.

So now my notes are concise, two pages maximum, one on each team but then with cheat codes all the way through! Colour coded numbers and scribbles that stand for debuts, scores, clubs, schools, awards, trivia, you name it, if it’s out there, it will be scribbled in colour somewhere on my two pages.

By the time throw-in comes, I will have the information relatively fresh in my mind but the notes are definitely needed to cross-reference and offer that security blanket.

When I started out, this information on club teams in particular was very difficult to find but now the clubs and the counties themselves and the PROs do a great job sending information into Nemeton during the week but also local news and media sources are far more accessible and do a great job.

Most are online but it would be rare for me not to pick up a copy of the Anglo Celt or the Kerryman or the Wexford People or whatever when I am on the road. There is always gold to be had there. As well as the websites of the clubs themselves for club games, or their Facebook pages, and of course the official match day programme. These resources were far more difficult to access ten years ago but now I would rely on the local angle hugely during the week leading into the game. As for the game itself? There is no planning you can do for this but you can make sure that you have the research done.

You could have a belter of a game, or a dour spectacle. All you can do is to try to do justice to the game in front of you and be fair to the athletes doing their best. All of the GAA games I do are obviously covering amateurs so I am always very mindful of that. These are not professionals and have a job to go to on a Monday morning and I feel that should always be respected as a commentator. Yes call what you see, but leave it at that.

During the game, we work very much in tandem with the team in the truck. The producer and director in my ear guiding me through the action but also listening out for things they may have seen on other cameras and angles, but also the Floor Manager. So you could have two or three voices in your ears, including your co-commentator, at the same time as commentating on the game.

I would also take notes on stats that are useful as the game progresses like chances and wides and the like, and again we work with the team in the truck then on other stats and figures that I wouldn’t have the head space to be keeping an eye on. After the game, it’s about Player of the Match interviews and manager interviews before you wrap up and look ahead to the next date in the diary!

And as I am heading home that is when the real work starts and the de-rig for the technicians. They will set up and de-rig in all conditions and they are the true heroes of the output!

Working at live sports is like nothing else that I know of. These are games, events, tournaments, finals, that you would love to attend anyway, but you are paid to cover them. Often they are games when the venue is sold out or it’s an All-Ireland Final. Tickets are like gold dust, and yet, here you are. I also feel that with Covid especially it reinforced how important this access to games can be for some people whether that is TG4 and historic first ever county title wins or the end of famines or Dubs TV and doing intermediate and junior club games from Parnell Park. People at home, or in hospitals, or elderly, or whatever their reason for not being in attendance. We provide a valuable service to them and I feel we owe it to them to do as good a job as possible. There comes a responsibility with that, I think, but if you take pride in your work and if you enjoy it, hopefully that comes across in the commentary and that add to the experience for those at home.

It’s busy working in the TV industry! For a lot of people, we are freelancers, so it is very difficult – within reason – to say ‘no’ to opportunities as you never know when the next one will come in. That creates issued as more often than not a lot of the freelancers would also have a day-job, which in my case, I work as the Senior Communications & Media Manager with Leinster Rugby.

So you have a busy Monday to Friday and then the additional work is on top of that. It can be busy and it can impact on the home life and you need to have a good system in place at home, which I think I have with Laura and the three kids, Laoise, Conor and Ella. Laura has been brilliant and is a superb support to me and what I want to achieve.

When I am busy it can be frantic at times, but when the down times come you have to make the most of it.

But I go back to what I said earlier, you are working at games and getting paid to work at games, that you love. And doing something that you love. And when I do come home, even after a long day I’d like to think I’m very rarely carrying any baggage with me. I love my work.

Also over the last few years Laoise, who is 11 now, and Conor, who is eight, have been coming to games so that has added a new dimension as well and seeing them enjoy the road trips and the match days with me. That won’t last I know as their lives will start to get busier and they won’t want to hang out with me, but for now, it’s very enjoyable to have their company at some games. Overall though, I do feel it’s a privilege to be working at these games and I would hope to continue for many years to come.

A lot of the pinch me moments are working with people that I grew up watching or even simple things like I remember in 1995 and in and around that time getting Dessie Farrell’s autograph myself as a young lad after the All-Ireland Final and only last week after interviewing Dessie, my son Conor asked Dessie for his autograph. Rothaí móra an tsaoil…!

I just loved it as a moment and Dessie was a gentleman with Conor despite the loss for Dublin that day and he tapped him on the head and thanked him for coming. Seeing Conor and his buzz from that, they are special moments and access that come about because of the role I have on match days.

Maybe for a playing highlight, I would go back to a Leinster Under 21 Hurling Final in 2018 and a first ever win for Galway. But it went to extra time and there were some brilliant late scores in normal time and then in extra time as well. History made. But the manner of it, the drama and the quality of the scores stand out. I did a fair few of the Meath games as they were coming through the ranks in Ladies Football so seeing that team evolve and those players then blossom on the biggest stage of all, was remarkable.

There is also a Tyrone and Kildare game in Croke Park and Stephen O’Neill put on a show with some of his point taking. It popped up on Twitter during the week and you just have to sit back and applaud that stuff. So many highlights across hurling, football and ladies football, very hard to nail it down to one highlight.

The most unique aspect to the job – I feel – is that very few people realise the speed at which things happen and how quickly you have to react. There isn’t time to check your notes or to cross-check a fact, especially in hurling, a delay in your commentary can be the difference between calling a score or an incident accurately and concisely and being completely irrelevant in what you are saying as the incident has passed and the keeper has already taken his puck out. Even getting players names right and trying to get it right all the time. I kick myself when I get it wrong but then everything happens so quickly that there are bound to be times when you don’t get it quite right but still, it’s hugely frustrating when it does go wrong. And then that you are very reliant on the information as presented to you but a late switch of a jersey – which has happened – or a late switch of a player in the programme – which has happened – and you are out of the loop completely but have to go by the official match programme.

As the commentator you are now very exposed and very much at the mercy of hundreds of thousands of people at home listening to you mistakenly call someone the wrong name until it is highlighted. You might spot an error like that at an inter-county game yourself given the profile of some of the players but that is very difficult in a club game or even in a hurling game when the players are all wearing helmets. So the pace at which you need to operate at is very high and the level of scrutiny is huge to get it right but that pressure also makes sure that you try to have as much prep as possible done to deliver as best you can. But it’s that pace, that excitement and energy, that makes it so enjoyable.