‘Seeing it to being it’ – that was the theory that spurred Jacqui Hurley on to become one of the countries leading Sports Presenters.
Presenter, Olympic and World Cup Broadcaster, Mum, and one-time Irish Basketball representative, Jacqui talks about her journey on screen, her unwavering passion for sport, and the women before her who carved out the path she is on.
How did you get a start behind the microphone?
I did my degree in Limerick in Communications and English and I always wanted to do this. I did an internship in America in my third year and that was where I really made up my mind. I did everything from running autocues to learning cameras and eventually got on the air.
Sport was my passion but I was really fascinated by the industry of media and I knew it was what I wanted to be in, in whatever form that took.
I was worked in local radio, in Live 95. RTÉ were looking for contributors to young people’s television and I sent in a tape. I got a phone call out of the blue and they said they’d like me to audition. All of a sudden I was doing a five-minute slot before Home and Away.
Ryle Nugent was deputy Head of Sport at the time and one day I just asked him for a coffee and told him I’d love to work in sport, doing anything. He must have thought I had something so he brought me in to work in production where I spent two years before moving on air.
It was a great grounding and when you’re willing to work, they recognise you as a grafter and that really stands to you.
People will remember political moments, like a speech or a news story but sport just connects to the heart. We get emotional even talking or thinking about it
You’re part of a group of presenters that seem to have all come in at around the same time…
Evanne (Ní Chuilinn) was in a little before me and was working as a sideline reporter on the Sunday Game. I used to watch her and think I’d love to be her, wouldn’t it be great.
When I came in I was working as a sub-editor and I just asked her one day for a coffee, there I go again, and we actually became great mates. We played a bit of camogie together and she actually taught me how to do the job.
Joanne (Cantwell) came across from TV3 at around the same time. We are all of a similar mindset. We were willing to do anything, we were all sports mad. It was good fun being around the group in the office, with Hugh Cahill and Darren Frehill as well, and just having this great job.
When we are away for something like the Olympics, where we were joined by Damien O’Meara as well, you really get to see the value of people; about what they can do to help and the skills that each of us has. You learn a huge amount from those kinds of experiences.
I always looked over the water and saw that being a woman in sports journalism was possible.
What’s your favourite memory of where your career has taken you so far?
Without a shadow of a doubt, Katie Taylor’s Gold Medal in London in 2012 is a memory I will take with me to my grave. I remember everything about it. I was sitting beside Marty Morrissey on one side, Jimmy Magee on the other and Des Cahill one down from him.
I remember looking down the row and thinking these guys all have tears in their eyes and they have maybe gone their whole careers waiting for a moment like this.
There were 9,000 people in that Excel Arena. My mum, my husband, my sister had all begged, borrowed or stolen tickets to be there, well not stolen but… It was just one of those moments. I’d say if you asked, ninety percent of Irish people would know where they were that moment when she won the gold medal.
Before she went people had already put a medal around her neck. You can only imagine the pressure.
I had gotten to know her in the years leading up to London so there was a personal connection as well but I think everybody kind of felt that. To have one of ours, an Irish person, competing at that level on a world stage is just magic.
Sport just resonates with us. People will remember political moments, like a speech or a news story but sport just connects to the heart. We get emotional even talking or thinking about it. It’s very special.
They weren’t just role models they were right there, they had a laugh, they were real and that made it all seem so much more attainable.
Who would have been your role models in the media, here and further afield?
I always looked over the water and saw that being a woman in sports journalism was possible. You didn’t need to look far to see that Clare Balding, Gabby Logan, Sue Barker, Hazel Irvine weren’t just there, they were good.
They were real idols, particularly when I was in college because they were all so good. If they could make the breakthrough then so could I.
When I got to RTÉ, Clare McNamara was already established, Joanne Cantwell was on TV3 and Evanne was on the sideline as well.
There were just lots of women on air and that made you believe that it was possible. Kathryn Thomas used to present this programme called Rapid and she came down to do a piece with us when I was on the U16 basketball team, her and Jason Sherlock.
I remember thinking they were only a couple of years older than me and they have their own TV programme and that was the reality of the phrase ‘seeing it to being it’. They weren’t just role models they were right there, they were chatty, they had a laugh, they were real and that made it all seem so much more attainable.
Have you any superstitions or routines before going on air?
My brother Seanie was killed in an accident in 2011. We got these wristbands made up which say Seanie 109, his racing number, and I generally wear that on air. Sometimes you can see it, sometimes you can’t. And if I’m not wearing it, it will be on the desk.
It’s a reminder that I’m doing a thing I love and that’s something he can’t do. It’s just there and it’s something that I’ll glance at if you’re about to do something and you’re not quite sure if you’ll make a mess of it or whatever. I’ll give a small glance and it just makes me think, you’ll be grand.