Behind the scenes with eir Sport as Leinster edge RDS thriller
Donncha O'Callaghan rides the remarks about his Technicolor shows in good spirits and contemplates desert island companions as Luke Fitzgerald arrives for his run-through with Tommy Bowe.
It was not long ago that these three men would have been up to their eyeballs in the festive interpro schedule and dreading the training run, or full-on match, on St Stephens' Day. Instead, on a cold but bearable December night, they are fronting eir Sports' coverage of Leinster versus Connacht.
We are midway through the 2018/19 Guinness PRO14 season and have been invited along to rickety throwback that is The RDS to go behind the scenes for the eir Sport broadcast. I meet work colleague Matt Gill in the media room, ensconced in a corner of the Anglesea Stand, and we warm up with coffee before strolling down for our golden tickets.
Usually, as a rugby reporter, I would get access to the media centre and a 3x3 foot section of the press row, over in what many still call 'The New' stand. This evening, with an eir lanyard around our necks, we have the run of the place... within reason. We are listed for pitch, tunnel and dressing room access but, much as I'd like to chart the pre-match snack options, we opt not to push it that far.
Instead, we pick a spot behind the goal-posts and drift from one corner to the other to take in all the build-ups, tune-ups and warm-ups. On the way, there was a visit to the production van - a sleek rig jam-packed with busy crew and monitors - before we got out of their collective hair. Opening sequences were being edited as we stepped out into the night and looked to brace some familiar faces.
The first player-turned-pundit we encounter is O'Callaghan and he is in fine form. He will be shooting back down the N7 after the broadcast wraps and he is already dreading the 60kph road-works, around and past Naas, that will need negotiating.
"Those [road-works] are almost like a special welcome to Dublin for the culchies," he jokes. "They're talking about getting another Luas line up and running, but how about finishing the road that gets half the country up to Dublin in the first place?!"
Traffic gripes aside, the former Munster and Ireland second row is enjoying the TV punditry but notes how he simply tries to wedge in between the lads and make some decent, worthwhile observations. He jokes that Bowe, Fitzgerald and analyst Murray Kinsella get their own markings (places to stand) while he has to just lope in and try not bump anyone out of shot while he is making his point.
There is a brief catch-up and he remarks on the success of our show, Baz & Andrew's House of Rugby - "If it's one-tenth as fun making it as it comes across on the show, yer flying it" - before declaring Andrew Trimble to be high up on his list of potential desert island companions (sense of humour scoring high points for Donners).
A brief snatch of chat with Fitzgerald, the former Leinster and Ireland back, and we are up to date on his college assignments and Christmas schedule before he is off to join the gang for their run-throughs. Talking points and some ins and outs are discussed as part of the prep but there is a chance to chat to host Tommy Bowe.
I spoke with Bowe earlier this season, not long after the season began and he had fronted his first couple of live broadcasts. The nervous energy, excitement and eagerness to do well that he had back in September has not sated at all.
"You still get nervous and you feel that buzz," he says. "We've done 10 or 11 OBs (outside broadcasts) so far and they're the most fun. Being so close to the action, and crowd, really help you get into it."
We wish him well and he paces off up the sideline and back as he gets some space to run over his show opening and absorb last-minute notes and directions.
We are 40 minutes from kick-off now and the Public Address system has kicked into gear. Four of five Connacht players are out walking the pitch and just the sole Leinster representative - Dan Leavy stalks across the far side of the pitch in his own company and with headphones on. He made his Leinster debut here four years ago, at the age of 20, but this has long been established as his domain.
The final tweaks are made as Bowe and his panel take their places on pieces of blue tape stuck precariously to the grass. O'Callaghan sets his colleagues at ease with a few jokes as Fitzgerald steps away to oblige some thrilled, young members of Ashbourne RFC for a photo.
Elsewhere in the ground, commentators Connor Morris and Liam Toland are up in the gantry while former Ireland lock Mazzie O'Reilly is getting the pre-match interviews with Leo Cullen and Andy Friend sorted.
Connacht are going through rigorous drills, nearby, and there is little indication of the late change that will soon be forced upon them. As it turns out, fullback Tiernan O'Halloran fails a late fitness test and a backline re-jig is needed. As much as that is a blow for Connacht, supporters of both sides are happy when it is announced that sub Bundee Aki will be pitched in from the start.
Some late changes of graphics over in the production van and a fresh talking point for Bowe & Co. as kick-off nears.
"Not a bad guy to spring off your bench!" Late team news at the RDS, as Bundee Aki comes in to the Connacht starting XV in place of the injured Tiernan O'Halloran. #GuinnessPRO14 #LEIvCON pic.twitter.com/dBJMignh6G
— eir Sport (@eirSport) December 22, 2018
80% empty up until 7:30pm, by 7:45 the ground is now full and battle is ready to commence.
Bowe, Fitzgerald and O'Callaghan all bring good energy to the broadcast and, as play gets underway, the mega-watt lights go down. All three head back to another production truck to watch the first half.
The next generation now have the stage and they give the viewers one hell of a show. 29-12 down with 17 minutes to play, Leinster rally to score three late tries and secure a 33-29 victory.
Lots, and lots, to talk about.
Lights back on. Here they go.
*You can catch all this season's Guinness PRO14 action on eir Sport.