There will be thousands of Donegal supporters in Croke Park tonight for the Allianz National Football League Division One fixture against Dublin as many more tune for the live coverage on Setanta Sports.
A lot of those who are staring at their televisions mightn’t necessarily know it at the time but the programme they will be tuned into is produced by a Donegal man - Barry Fitzgerald from Knocknamona Park in Letterkenny, who has been working with the broadcaster for eight years now.
“As a producer I would plan the programme from start to finish,” Barry said of his duties. “Basically, every second is accounted for on the programme. We’ve decided on what clips we will show in the pre-match and the guests we have on - this week they are Senan Connell and Darragh Ó Sé. Eoin McDevitt from Newstalk’s Off the Ball will be the anchor.
“I would have them booked a few weeks in advance and beforehand we’d discuss the programme - how long we’ve got to talk on something, what they will talk about and things like that. Good planning is hugely important.”
Setanta’s coverage of the National Leagues is widespread and on Saturday they have three live matches. As well as Donegal’s match against Dublin, which throws in at 7.15pm, Armagh and Down on Setanta One is at 7pm and the other Croke Park fixture of the day, Dublin against Tipperary in the National Hurling League Division One, has a 5pm start. It makes for a busy night.
“On a match day, I will not be at Croke Park,” Barry adds “Instead we work from the Setanta offices here in South Princes Street, Dublin city centre. It’ll be pretty busy. There’s Pemier League on right beforehand so they’ll have to jump straight off and we’ll be on then just before 5pm.
“What we do when there’s two games running concurrently - as is the case in the football on Saturday - is to build up to both games from the one studio. Then, in the studio we will focus on the Setanta Ireland match, Donegal against Dublin, while the Setanta One game, which I would’ve already put together and done the bookings and planning for, becomes independent about five minutes before throw-in.
“We have that feed filtering through to the studio as well of course and for viewers of Setanta Ireland who also want to watch the Setanta One match, we show it directly afterwards, say at 9pm, and then there will be the reaction and analysis of that as well. So while I will keep an eye on both matches, Setanta Ireland is the main focus for me.”
With Donegal involved in the Setanta Ireland match, that might suit Barry, who was wasn’t long into his teens when he stood on the Canal End for the 1992 All-Ireland final. The former St Eunan’s College student, who graduated from University of Glamorgan in Wales before completing a Masters at University of Ulster in Coleraine, is the eldest son of Barney from Bundoran and Anne (nee Keon) of Ballyshannon.
“Initially I only joined Setanta for 12 weeks,” Barry said of his appointment in 2004. “I was working on a GAA magazine programme called Breaking Ball that Setanta used to do for RTE. I got full-time when the company launched the Setanta Ireland channel.
“We show a lot of soccer, things like Champion’s League, League of Ireland, Setanta Sports Cup, internationals and Premier League but I do all sorts. We do boxing and did the Rugby World Cup, which was an interesting experience getting up in the middle of the night and going to work passing people who were coming from pubs. Matt Williams and Neil Francis were good fun to work with. I produced it and we did every game live. It was daunting to begin with but it worked out fine.”
So, come Saturday night, Barry will be glued to the action from Croke Park but whether Donegal are winning, losing or drawing he will be watching it a little differently from everyone else.
“You have to be totally neutral and I find I don’t enjoy the matches at all sometimes,” Barry adds. “The focus has to be on the programme and on what’s coming next. Even if Donegal grab a goal there’s no cheering and the professional head is on. You can’t be a fan, even though my dad took me to Ballybofey since I was a little kid in national school.
“What I tend to do is record the games and then watch them back the following day. We had a good win in Ballyshannon against Mayo last week. Dublin will be tough, especially after losing to Down last Sunday. Jim McGuinness has said the championship is what he’s focusing on and last year brought a great run, which seemed to unite the place in Donegal, so something similar this summer would be brilliant. One step further would be even better.”