BRIAN O’DRISCOLL MUST have clutched his trolley and thought ‘Here we go again’ as he emerged through the sliding Arrivals doors at Dublin Airport’s Terminal 2.
A media horde jostled for positions and everyone wanted to know how Ireland’s greatest rugby player felt about getting dropped for the Third Lions Test against Australia. The fact that O’Driscoll covered that ground Down Under meant little.
The Lions’ media relations officer threw Jonny Sexton and Sean O’Brien, who had both featured in the series-winning match, in their path but the spurned centre was in demand.
O’Driscoll signed autographs for fans but waved off interview requests and dodged reporters like blue-shirted Frenchmen in 2000. He was almost in the clear but Sinead Kissane [TV3] and Jacqui Hurley [RTÉ] were having none of it.
Brian O’Driscoll’s quick escape from Dublin Airport is hindered. ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
“From interviewing Brian over the years,” Kissane told TheScore.ie, “he seemed OK but he wanted to get out of there as quick as he could. People are not always willing to stop and talk about something traumatic.”
Having returned, long-haul, from Australia the previous week, the TV3 reporter knew that the Irish Lions, who were unaware of a media welcoming party, may have been reluctant to get into the details of their seven-week quest to claim a tough series.
Kissane said, “There was nothing less I wanted to do that day than chase across the airport after Brian O’Driscoll, who is just off a couple of long flights. But his dropping was a major story and we had to get his take on it. You only hope that they understand that you are only doing your job.”
The Kerry native has been doing the sports reporting job since 2004 when she started off under the ‘innovative and dedicated’ leadership of Ger Gilroy at Newstalk. Kissane’s uncle, Tom O’Riordan, and cousin, Ian O’Riordan, both write about sports for national newspapers and served as both inspiration and encouragement as she found her feet.
She made the jump to TV3 a year later and credits Stephen Cullinane, sports editor at the time, for setting a task and declaring ‘You’re ready, off you go’.
As a huge rugby fan, Kissane’s move into TV reporting coincided with Munster’s march to a first ever Heineken Cup. A 23-19 victory at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium presented a professional dilemma for Kissane. She recalled:
The game started at 3pm and we had a 5:30pm bulletin. After the final whistle, I had to go outside the stadium to report on the game. I was in tears and I was about to go on, live, in a few minutes. I thought ‘Oh my God, get it together. You can’t be crying on live TV’.”
Thankfully for Kissane, the piece to camera went off without a hitch [despite the joyous marauding of Munster fans] and she got to report on further Heineken Cup success for her home province, and Leinster, in the years that followed.
In between Munster’s two European Cup triumphs, Kissane got the job of travelling to France to cover Ireland’s quest for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Eddie O’Sullivan’s men had been denied the Six Nations on points difference earlier in the year. Nonetheless, Kissane was wary of high hopes after witnessing a last-minute rescue act from Ronan O’Gara, against Italy, in Ireland’s final warm-up game on home soil.
“We were carrying out the post-match interviews and the atmosphere was tense and heavy,” she said. “You got a sense that ‘whoa, something is not quite right here’.” Edgy wins followed over Namibia and Georgia before the wheels eventually came off against the hosts, France. The 25-3 reversal was no surprise to Kissane:
They had an open training session in Bordeaux before the France game and both teams went at each other. The aggression, frustration and intensity were there for all to see. There was an unbelievable amount of injuries that came from that session.”
O’Sullivan was followed by Kidney and Cardiff, once again, was the setting for sheer joy as Ireland captured the 2009 Grand Slam. Ireland failed to hover at such a lofty altitude and Kidney departed the scene in April of this year. The inevitability of his exit shocked Kissane.
She said, “The most disappointing thing about Declan Kidney’s time in charge were his final few weeks. I asked him straight out [after the England game] if he wanted a contract extension and he avoided the question. He never openly declared ‘Yes, I want this job’. He may have been in behind-the-scenes discussions with the IRFU but he never stood up for himself in public.”
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt shows his softer side before the Challenge Cup final. ©INPHO/James Crombie
In appointing New Zealander Joe Schmidt to coach Ireland for the next three years, Kissane believes the union has found that fighting spirit. The reporter cites Schmidt standing up for Leinster when they were accused of poaching Mike McCarthy, and for his player when Dave Kearney received a reckless kick to the head by Paul O’Connell, as admirable signs.
“What I loved about Joe this year,” she said, “is that he would come out at full-time, get his point across and stand up for Leinster. He didn’t bite his tongue and I think the players respect that.”
As a proud supporter of Kerry GAA, Kissane will try her best next weekend, during the All-Ireland football semi-final, to bite her tongue in the presence of Dublin supporters. “I can’t believe it’s Dublin again,” she declared. “Our [All-Ireland final] defeat to them in 2011 is still in my gut. It still hangs over me.
“Kerry have looked steady but nothing more this year. Hopefully there’s still a level they can take their game up to.”
If that level proves elusive, Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice may find himself pursued by that familiar, blue TV3 microphone.
- You can follow Kissane on Twitter @sineadkissane