By David Hennessy
Well known for presenting RTE’s Craig Doyle Live and BBC’s Holiday, Irish presenter Craig Doyle will anchor BT’s rugby coverage as it revolutionises live sport in Britain. A massive rugby fan, the presenter told The Irish World how much he is looking forward to the new role: “I’m thrilled. Presenters are always going on ‘it’s the dream job’. I think presenters feel duty bound to call every job they’ve just got the dream job but this is kind of the dream job because it’s live rugby. I’ll talk about rugby all day. I’ll sit down with salt shakers in a restaurant and map out moves I saw that day with fellow rugby fans. I’m really pleased that at this stage of my career, I’ve still got new things happening, things to be excited about.”
Craig trained at London’s College of Printing before starting to work with BBC Radio Suffolk. Since then, Craig has worked with BBC Sport and presented rugby on ITV: “I worked on my first rugby match for radio seventeen years ago. I suppose I always felt at the time that working with the BBC and doing rugby was the ticket. I did six/seven years of the six nations but more and more the terrestrial channels just can’t show live sport and people think it’s about money and not being able to afford it. Actually a lot of the time, it’s hard to place live sports into a television schedule: They’ll often put a soap opera ahead of live sport now and that’s what is great about BT Sport and Sky sports and ESPN and Setanta, they’re devoted to sport and if you want to present sport for a living, that’s where you’ve got to go and BT are just the most unbelievable set-up I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Craig will be joined by greats such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Bayfield, Matt Dawson, Austin Healy, Ben Kay: “The team they’ve put together for the rugby is exceptional. They’ve really gone for it so I’m really confident about it. It’s great. Within the commentating team and the pundits we’ve got, we’ve got world cup winners, lions, Heineken Cup winners, I’m certainly none of those things so I suppose what I have to bring to it is enthusiasm and the guy on the sofa kinda thing and tap into these guys’ knowledge.
“The way I’ve been doing the rugby with Martin Bayfield on ITV for the last five years has been very consumer friendly, we’re not patronising people. People always talk about front rows, the dark arts: ‘Who knows what goes on in there’. Well sorry, we bloody should know what goes on in the front row in a scrum. I hate that attitude of ‘leave them at it’, I want to know what the flippin’ hell is going on in there and we’ve tried to do that with the ITV show and interestingly enough, the ITV show now does a million and a half viewers a week which says a lot for the way we’re presenting the rugby. We’re making it really accessible and I think that’s the way we have to go. It’s a challenge because there are parts of the game which are deeply confusing.”
The Irish World saw Craig at Twickenham last year for a six nations game that sadly didn’t go Ireland’s way. Has the presenter played rugby himself? “I played all my life, I was absolutely shite and I’m still playing. I’m actually sitting here, I’ve got a rugby ball in my hand. I hold a rugby ball in my hand when I’m on the phone and stuff. I played in school but I was rubbish in school. I left school, I went to Maynooth to university and I shared a house with a couple of guys who were very good, one Leinster player, three senior cup medallists and they said: ‘Come on, play with the college team. It will be good fun’. I always used to play centre and they said ‘you’re actually a scrum half’. I started playing scrum half and then Kildare Rugby Club approached the four of us after some match and said ‘will you come and play for us?’ And next thing I know I’m playing Towns Cup and Hosie Cup rugby and I’m going: ‘Oh my God, I’m shite but I’m not as shite as I thought I was’. Then I ended up going off and playing the season in Canada and then I came back to London and I was playing with Blackheath and I thought: ‘I’m actually okay, I’m a bit crap but I’m not completely crap’.”
What’s Craig take on the Irish team as it enters a stage of some rebuilding? “It’s an inevitable time of change. We were very lucky. Brian O’Driscoll is the greatest rugby player I’ve ever seen play without a shadow of a doubt, O’Gara, what a brilliant player, Darcy, Paul O’Connell: You don’t produce these players every year they’re just not always there. We were very lucky, we had a few good years of exceptionally good players and I think they just gotta try and produce these guys again and they are there but it just takes time. You don’t replace O’Driscoll unless God himself arrives on the planet.”
London Irish are Craig’s own rugby team and this goes back to the beginning of his time in London: “When I moved to London sixteen/seventeen years ago, going to London Irish was the only way I could meet girls so like all great things it comes down to trying to meet girls. One of my oldest mates, Niall Woods played for London Irish and at the time, the London Irish team had loads of Irish players: There was Conor O’Shea, Justin Bishop, Kieron Dawson, there was loads of Irish guys and they used to play down at Sunbury at that stage. They would only get maybe 4,000 at a game but it was the greatest day out, it was just so much fun and there would be a huge big session afterwards and basically myself and my buddies used to hang out with the rugby players and pick up the scraps. Obviously I went on to meet the woman of my dreams and get married but I stayed supporting London Irish.”
After training in the English capital, Craig has done much work on British television. Is London his second home? “It is, yeah. I tried to work here (Ireland). In the last year or two, I started doing more and more stuff here in Ireland and I just said to her (my wife) ‘I can’t do it’ and she said ‘no, you can’t, you are made to work in the UK and that’s it. You’re a better person when you’re working in the UK and coming home here. It works better for you’. I miss London when I’m not in London. You can do anything you want. I have a bike over there, I cycle everywhere. My brother’s there, a lot of my buddies are still there so it is a very special city. I don’t think people over here really get here how cool it is sometimes.”
Craig is one of many successful Irish presenters on UK screens. When asked why he thinks we do produce anchors that go down so well, he answers: “I suppose we only hear about the presenters who do well. I know of plenty who have gone over and it hasn’t worked out for them. Let’s face it: We’re inextricably linked. There was a time when you weren’t always loud and proud about being an Irishman in London and I think in the last decade or two, we’ve all realised, although we’re different, we’re kinda the same us English and Irish. We’re very similar. We’re inextricably linked whether we like it or not, we really are.
“My kids are in a school here in Wicklow and I would say 20% of the parents are English. It’s both ways now, there was a time when there was only Irish people going to London, now it’s coming the other way as well and I think that’s been a really important breakthrough in bridging the countries.”
For the full interview, see the print edition of the June 1 Irish World.