As extratime.ie looks to expand our team of reporters for next year, we asked Macdara Ferris to give us a flavour at what it was like covering games from the press box in 2016.
It was a season that took me from Ballybofey and Derry in the North West to Leeside down south, to the climax of the European club season in Italy as well as the Euros in France.
Along the way there was the chance to pose questions to the holy trinity of the Irish football family – Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane and John Delaney – and the opportunity to see one of the League of Ireland’s greatest teams close at hand as they made history in Europe.
Don’t mind the dramatic doomsday talk, 2016 was a great year!
Getting to the press box early is the norm. Taking up your position an hour ahead of kick off allows you to get the ever popular teamsheet twitter photo published. Let me start my season review with a self-indulgent story of being very early for kick off – 24 hours early in fact.
In Milan in June for the Champions League final, I was in extratime.ie’s seat in the press box in the San Siro on a sultry evening on the eve of the final. Sitting there I wrote up my report from Zinedine Zidane’s pre-match press conference while Alicia Keys provided the soundtrack down below me as she did her dress rehearsal for the next day’s opening ceremony!
Covering matches from the pressbox isn’t normally as showbiz or have such a great view. In the Brandywell with current stadium redevelopments, the press box meant having a seat in-line with the penalty box at one end of the ground! The poor view was counter-balanced with the chance to chat with Derry City boss Kenny Shiels who made for ‘good copy’ all season long!
When the season broke for the summer, the extratime.ie team took a trip to Euro 2016 which was a real highlight. Over a fortnight in France, our five man team split our time between our two ET HQs. In Paris we based ourselves in a wonderful Haussmann apartment, while it was a refurbished traditional early 1900s house in Bordeaux. The main priority though was ensuring we had good wifi to send back reports from the dozen games we attended.
The tournament press pass gave me the opportunity to speak to Roy Keane in Versailles, Joachim Loew and Marc-Andre ter Stegen in the Stade de France, and Michael McGovern and Alan Mannus in the Parc des Princes – the goalkeepers going out of their way to provide extratime.ie readers with an insight into the tournament!
The European adventure for Ireland didn’t end with the Boys in Green’s eventual elimination in Lyon, as Dundalk flew the flag for the League of Ireland all the way into December.
With the Lilywhites exploits well covered from the press box by our own Caoimhin Reilly and Tom O’Connor, myself and fellow extratime.ie reporter Dave Donnelly paid in to see if the Lilywhites could beat BATE Borisov and at least guarantee themselves the Europa League group stages.
After the superb 3-0 victory for Stephen Kenny’s men that night in Tallaght – sorry Dundalk - we gatecrashed the post-match mix-zone to talk to those at the centre of one the great sporting stories of this year – and any indeed year.
It was a night so many of those involved called the greatest night of their careers and they didn’t let that be the highpoint as the completed their domestic three in a row and gave themselves a shot at the last 32 of the Europa League right through to their final group game in December.
While the season started with a flurry of friendlies in February, for my final game of the season it was in Vienna, a city which just about avoided any flurries of snow in late November. With temperatures close to freezing, the Irish team emerged victorious against Austria with a landmark away win.
While Daryl Horgan was named on the bench in Vienna, we didn’t get to see a League of Ireland player get a competitive cap for the first time since the 1980s. We did however get to see our first meaningful away qualifier victory since that same decade. Ireland replicated the scoreline from their famous 1987 win in Scotland, with James McClean breakaway goal in Vienna sealing the victory for Ireland.
It leaves the Boys in Green in a great position with ten points after four games and leaves everyone looking forward to what 2017 will bring. If that includes wins at home in their next two games against Wales and Serbia, realistically Russia 2018 will be within their grasp. Domestically the focus will be on Dundalk’s quest to equal the record of four League of Ireland titles in a row.
An exciting year ahead for football to follow from 2016, whether you plan to watch from the terraces or from the press box.
extratime.ie is on the look out for new talent to join our volunteer reporting team for 2017 to cover all aspects of Irish football. If you are interested, please drop us an email to [email protected].