As we continue our recruitment drive for new reporters to join our volunteer team for the 2019 season (see more here), we asked Tom O’Connor to tell us his route to the pressbox. Tom’s work earned him a spot as one of three journalists shortlisted for last year’s FAI Communications Award. He was nominated for Best Feature for his series 'Education: Life Beyond Soccer.'
Look around you on a Friday night and the supporters you are surrounded by are most likely direct descendants of those who occupied the same terraces for generations.
For me it was different though. I grew up 20 miles from Gortakeegan and sporadically attended Monaghan United matches at the turn of the millennium but never regularly enough to be called a die hard supporter. Yes I read the match reports every week in the local paper but it was never a major focus for me.
Then in 2004 that lauded Shelbourne team - in a similar manner to Dundalk a dozen years later - piqued my interest in League of Ireland football and off to Gortakeegan I went again.
That summer, more through a lack of squad depth than any real talent, I played for the Monaghan’s under-21 squad and felt like a real football player when the phonebook thick document on banned substances landed in the letterbox!
Later in the season, as a supporter, I attended the Brandywell for Stephen Kenny’s first home game in charge of Derry City - my first experience of an LOI crowd outside Monaghan.
College and my own sports got in the way of the LOI for a few years, though I did persuade my wife to accompany me to the 2006 FAI Cup Final – Stephen Kenny’s first Bogside reign ending with a 4-3 win for his team.
There was something magical about that game. I’d been in Lansdowne Road for games previously but this match, in the pouring rain of a windswept extra time, was different especially with fairytale ending afforded to both Kenny and future international goalkeeper David Forde.
A few years after settling in Dundalk, I began to frequent Oriel Park, more out of curiosity than anything else. A few random games from 2009 onwards. I became a father for the first time in 2012 and by 2014 our beautiful daughter had also arrived so I parked my own sporting ambitions to concentrate on fatherhood.
But I needed sport in my life someway so I was persuaded to pop back to Oriel Park by a friend - a fellow dad and someone with a long association with Dundalk FC. I started to become more regular a visitor to The Shed and I also at that stage did some writing on the league for another national website.
I was gripped by the title race between Dundalk and Cork City that season. Trailing 2-1 to Bohemians, Stephen Kenny needed someone to get his title designs back on track. He summoned architect David McMillan from the bench and he ensured a 3-2 victory which laid the foundations for the title decider against Cork City a few weeks later.
The returning skipper Stephen O’Donnell scored to set up the three league winning points for the Lilywhites on that magical night where The Shed bounced. Fairytale stuff.
In 2015 I was bought a season ticket and became a regular in The Shed until I began to enquire as to why a friend of ours was always on his phone during games and he told me that he reported for extratime.ie, an Irish football website run by a group ofguys who volunteered to report on the League of Ireland.
Intrigued, I asked if I could become involved as the website I was contributing to was looking for a different model of writing than that which I was comfortable with. I was happy to have a possible change in focus and got in touch with extratime.ie and was talked through what was involved and I jumped at the chance to join the team.
My first game was Dundalk’s 4-1 victory over St. Patrick’s Athletic in the summer of 2015 and since then I’ve been lucky enough to cover four FAI Cup Finals, Ireland v Switzerland in April 2016, the entire home journey of Dundalk’s 2016 European adventures, as well as reporting from Tallinn this summer.
In addition, I’ve carried out interviews with a host of LOI stars including Seanie Maguire, Daryl Horgan, Andy Boyle, most of the managers in the league and even the Netherlands’ World Cup Final captain Ron Vlaar. I’ve appeared a number of times on the extratime.ie Sportscast and on eirSport’s LOI Roundup.
Allied to these wonderful experiences is the constant availability of news and press releases to hone your writing skills.
Many previous contributors to extratime.ie have earned jobs on the back of their efforts – with alumni working with local and national newspapers in both Ireland and the UK. Others, including myself, are now combining reporting for extratime.ie with providing content for their local LOI club.
If League of Ireland reporting or interviewing is something of interest, I couldn't recommend extratime.ie highly enough. It was one of the best sporting decisions I ever made in joining the team.
We are on the look out for new talent, people who are interested in writing about all aspects of Irish football. If this sounds like something that might interest you, now is the time to get in touch with us by emailing email@example.com explaining why you want to be part of our volunteer team, details of any journalism experience to date and, where possible, a one page CV.