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Cliona is helping to steer RTE's sports coverage

October 29th, 2016 7:20 AM

By Southern Star Team

Cliona O'Leary at work in the sports department of RTÉ. ‘I grew up to the sound of Micheal O'Muircheartaigh on Sunday afternoon drives on the radio,' she says.

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Drimoleague native Cliona O’Leary spent a month in a ‘bunker’ in Rio, beaming all the action and drama back home to us, she tells Brian Moore

IS there something in the water in Drimoleague?

While Dee Forbes was beginning her first days at the helm of the country’s national broadcaster as RTÉ’s Director General, another Drimoleague native was out in Rio for RTÉ’s Sports department, watching yet two more West Corkonians collecting silver medals to bring home to Skibbereen. 

Cliona O’Leary told the Southern Star how she grew up in Drimoleague with the sound of Micheal O’Muircheartaigh and the theme tune to The Sunday Game as the backdrop to her childhood. 

‘I was always involved in sport. My Dad was a big GAA supporter, and so I went to games with him – local (Clann Na Gael) and county (Cork footballers) from a young age. I grew up to the sound of Micheal O’Muircheartaigh on Sunday afternoon drives on the radio,’ Cliona recalled. However, Cliona’s love of sport did not end there. ‘I played Gaelic football with Clann Na Gael and with Mary Immaculate (‘Mary I’) College in Limerick.’

She also played a game with the Cork minors, and volleyball with Mercy Heights Skibbereen and Mary I. ‘I was involved in gymnastics and played tennis in Skibbereen and college. Once I joined RTÉ Sport, I had to give up team sport as I worked weekends but I keep fit, and I love swimming. I also completed two sprint triathlons last summer,’ Cliona continued. 

After school Cliona did an Hons BA in Media & Communications Studies with English in Mary I. 

‘I was lucky to get into a FAS course after that, with some help from my cousin Una. I told the class leader, Paul Dolan, on day one that it would be my dream to work in RTÉ Sport, and I was lucky that he got me in on work experience for two weeks. Those two weeks turned into 19 years! In fact, I’m here 20 next May,’ Cliona said. 

‘I have been lucky, as well, in the people I have worked under in RTÉ. Glen Killane was group head of Sport before he became MD of Television (now MD of Eir TV & Eir Sport) and he has guided me through, from series editor of soccer, rugby, GAA, Olympics, Euros, World Cups over the years to ‘away team’ leader on the Euros in 2004 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and then onto assistant commissioning editor.’

She said that after Ryle Nugent took on the role of group head of Sport, she took over in his previous role, as deputy head of TV Sport in 2010.

And that led her to Rio. ‘It sounds very glamorous being in Brazil for the Olympics but, in fact, we were hidden away in what was like an ice box because the air con has to keep the place cool for all of the machinery in the building, and there are no windows, so a team of us were in this bunker for the four weeks,’ she explained. 

It certainly doesn’t sound too glamorous, and Cliona lets us in on another little story that gives an idea of some of the  high drama that goes on behind the scenes that the viewer never gets to know about:

‘On the day before the race, we tried to book a live stand, so we could interview the guys immediately after they competed.’ Unfortunately, OBS (Olympic Broadcasting Services) had only one bookable position which was taken by another broadcaster. 

As Croatia was the only country with a spot that wasn’t using their position for that race, Cliona called to their office to see if she could convince them to allow RTE use it. 

‘They weren’t fully connected, so we couldn’t take the live feed, but myself and assistant producer Kevin O’Connell had to sit at the Croats’ master control room watching Sinead and Claire first, and then Gary and Paul. 

‘As soon as Joe Stack did the interviews, Kevin ran like a hare down the corridor into our master control room with the tape, and we played it down the line, and people at home got it as soon as possible after the races. So it wasn’t live, but it was very close to that – thanks to the Croats.’

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