My Olympic basketball journey began in 1991 when Michael O’ Carroll of RTE gave me my break into the media world when he invited me to become the basketball analyst for the National Cup finals which were played over one weekend for both men and women at senior and underage level, and shown live on RTE.
In that first year my role was to analyse the games at the pre-game stage, the half time break and at the completion and when the weekend was over and the 8 live games finished, I was so thrilled to have been involved in an exciting live TV event.
The following year in addition to my analyst work Michael asked to be become the co-commentator alongside Ger Canning and this dual role carried on for the next 12 years or so at national level when basketball was shown.
In 2004 at the Athens Olympic Games the plan was to carry on as normal however my role changed to becoming the main Olympic basketball commentator after the first day. I was asked to commentate on my own on a women’s game between the Czech Republic and Spain which went to overtime in a thrilling match and my style of commentating, liked by many, was born that day, and has evolved since then.
For the rest of those games with Sean O’ Sullivan alongside me as the co-commentator, my enthusiastic, passionate and exciting commentary style with sayings like “Downtown, Boomshakala , and Coast to Coast “ was launched onto TV screens.
In 1992 the Dream Team from the USA hit the Olympic basketball scene in Barcelona and from then on it was believed no one would ever beat the professionals from the USA. However as luck would have it, (we all need a break), in my first gig in 2004 being the main commentator, the unthinkable happened in the men’s semi-final and Argentina beat the USA and went on to win Gold and for me to be part of this history was incredible. The USA won the women’s event and to have commentated on the best players on the planet in both events for 2 weeks was simply dreams coming true.
The 2008 games in Beijing was where we saw the Spanish men’s team and the Australian women’s team emerge as a real threat to USA Gold medal ambitions and both competitions saw great conclusions. The men’s decider saw Kobe Bryant take over the game in the final quarter to give the USA men’s team a return to the Gold medal podium with an 11 point margin. In the women’s , the USA team was led by 4 time Gold medal winner Lisa Leslie along with Sue Bird and Diana Taurasi as they powered past Australia who had world stars in Lauren Jackson and Penny Taylor on their roster.
I was now having a ball alongside Sean and my Olympic basketball commentary was receiving some great feedback from many, while some were still finding it different. But I could not wait for London four years on.
The London games arrived, and social media was now much more relevant than ever before. The competitions were electric and we saw one of the best ever men’s games in the final between Spain and USA, when again it took a devastating 4th quarter performance from both Kobe and Le Bron James to finally break the hearts of the Spanish for the second successive games. The USA women’s team won another Gold again after a fantastic win in the semi-final over Australia and an easy enough final win over France.
The social media impact was very favourable and we trended on Twitter regularly in Ireland with a moment of trending in the USA (reminding me of 15 minutes of fame - if even that!). Other media comments were very flattering with one still vivid in my mind ‘It hasn’t been for everybody but for every person you’ve found who thinks his style insufferable, you’ll find another five who’ve found him unmissable’.
I now had to deal with nice comments which are easy enough, and less nice ones which take adjusting to, but that is the price to pay for being in the public eye, and one I was prepared to pay.
2016 saw me commentate with Sean again on the Rio games and though the USA men looked vulnerable at times, they stepped up in the final to hammer Serbia, while the women’s bandwagon to Gold just carried on.
I commentated on newer stars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving while saying goodbye to older ones like Manu Ginolbi and Pau Gasol in the men’s and Sue Bird and Penny Taylor in the women’s, to name just a few. It still gives me shivers to think how lucky I am that Michael O’ Carroll gave me that break all those years ago.
It has been a fascinating journey, learning how to pronounce foreign names under the pressure of live TV, how to protect my voice with things like honey and lemon etc. to get through 32 + games in a two week period. The hours of research needed to ensure the information we share with the audience is up to date and relevant and then to commentate in a way that is enthusiastic, passionate and my own.
“When I played, I played to win,” “When I coached I coached to win too. But when I commentate it’s for people to enjoy it. Sport is entertaining and so should the commentary be.”
As I said in my final twitter message after the end of the Rio Olympics, “For those who enjoyed us thanks, for those who didn’t, maybe next time.” We leave it there so.