Máire Treasa Ní Dhubhghaill realised the importance of that afternoon’s Rugbaí Beo broadcast when she received a phone call from her dad on the morning of 22 November.
It was not a traditional pre-match routine, or some superstition, but the result of a text that Ó Dhubhghaill had received from legendary former Galway hurling captain Joe Connolly.
“My dad rang me and I was like, 'Hello?' And he was like, 'I'm just wishing you luck today’,” Máire Treasa told World Rugby.
“I was like, 'OK? I do this every weekend'. But, he had gotten a text off Joe Connolly… and I think that just meant that he was like, 'Oh, maybe this is a big deal’.”
Ní Dhubhghaill was on her way to the RDS Arena in Dublin to present coverage of Leinster’s PRO14 match against Cardiff Blues on Irish language TV channel TG4.
What made the occasion an historic one was the fact that she was doing so alongside Derbhile Níc a Bhaird, Eimear Considine, Jenny Murphy and Máire Ní Bhraonáin. It would be the first time in Irish broadcasting that a match had been voiced and analysed by an all-female line-up.
“As historic as this was, it didn't feel like that much of a stretch for us because we've been working with female talent, and it's something we were very focused on when we revamped the Rugbaí BEO brand two years ago,” executive producer Kieran Hartigan said.
“We've been working with female analysts and more latterly with Máire on commentary over the last number of years. So, it wasn't that much of a stretch for us.
“It just was the first time that we were able to schedule everybody on at the same time. And, I think in terms of challenging or addressing the imbalance in terms of female representation in sport, and cultural perceptions of women in sport, it was a statement worth making.”
‘A special day’
TG4’s faith in the five women is well earned. Considine, Murphy and Níc a Bhaird have all played international sevens and 15s for Ireland, while Ní Bhraonáin is a former Gaelic football star, and Ní Dhubhghaill is a seasoned broadcaster.
Each of the quintet, meanwhile, have gained valuable experience over recent seasons, which ensured that as Leinster enjoyed a serene 40-5 victory on the pitch, that level of calm was reflected in both the studio and the commentary box.
“I think to the naked eye and to anyone who tuned in for the rugby, [they] were happy with what they saw, especially if you're a Leinster fan!” Ní Dhubhghaill said.
🪄 That's magic! @SportTG4 with their all-female broadcast team for #LEIvCBL #GuinnessPRO14 #CantSeeCantBe #20x20 #WomenInSport @mairetreasa | @EimearConsidine | @jennymurphy045 | @m_nibhraonain | @deirbhile_nicb pic.twitter.com/RWujmleWco— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) November 22, 2020
“That's the main thing, we're just the link between the match and the viewers at home. So, we're not necessarily there to be the focus.
“I know it was a special day for us, but I think that the job is well done if the focus is on the match.”
The reaction to the broadcast has been largely positive, although there were some negative comments on social media.
“We got a lot of really overwhelmingly positive feedback. But, you know, the negative comments speak louder at points as well,” Ní Dhubhghaill said.
“If it was a women's game, I don't think people would have taken as much notice of it. But, I suppose for us, again, it was just another week in our broadcasting schedule and it was great that we were all there and it was a really proud day for us.”
Hartigan added: “I always, with these things, tend to try and flip it.
“And I say, well, had it been a women's game and you had all male talent, which happens quite regularly, would you in any situation envisage somebody saying, ‘Well, that analyst isn't credible because they're not a female?’
“Of course you wouldn’t, and the same has to be said for the men's game.”
Creating a ‘new normal’
Ní Bhraonáin and Considine were back in the classroom in their day jobs as teachers on the Monday morning, and they both saw the positive impact promoting female role models can have first-hand.
“I think they all really enjoyed the game, and I suppose what I felt was coming from it was maybe that they see the possibilities of work that would be there in sport and in Irish,” Ní Bhraonáin said.
“But, a big thing for me is that rather than saying, 'You did well’ or ‘That was great, that was such a different thing’, they didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Because since I've worked in the school, I've done this kind of work with commentating or analysis.”
Considine tells the story of her young cousin who was taken to an Ireland open training session at Thomond Park, and became “distraught” when she discovered it was the men rather than the women in town.
She is hopeful that younger generations of sports fans will be more open to watching and listening to female talent.
“TG4 have set the benchmark on this. It's up to everyone else to follow suit and to try to create the ‘new normal’ in which women are on TV, women are broadcasting, women do play sports and they're on at peak times on TV,” she said.
“Eventually it will be the ‘new normal’ and people won't even bat an eyelid when they see a female commentator or broadcaster, or when they see females playing live sport at one o'clock on a Sunday, which is the usual men’s time for a game.”
Hartigan is hopeful that day might come sooner rather than later: “In terms of changing attitudes, I think we just need to persist with what we're doing.
“The more people see it, the more it's going to become the norm. My hope is that something like this isn't even worthy of comment within the next 12-15 months.”