Darragh McManus caught up with the Scotstown, Gráinne McElwain, to discuss Irish, girls in sport and the "once-in-a-lifetime" experience of a pre-Christmas All-Ireland.
Monaghan native Gráinne McElwain grew up "in a sports-mad household" so her ascension to presenting Inside the Game makes perfect sense.
Sky Sports' new weekly GAA discussion show, hosted by Gráinne, Brian Carney and Mike Finnerty on alternating weeks, is currently building up to the imminent explosion of inter-county Gaelic games in late October, culminating with this year’s unique All-Ireland finals before Christmas. In the meantime, there’s plenty to explore, analyse and remember from previous championships, with the help of an expert panel and cast of contributors.
How has Inside the Game being going so far?
I had my first show recently, done through Zoom in my own house. With the Covid situation we can’t go into a studio. Hopefully, as the championship kicks off we’ll be able to be in studio together, at a venue, socially distanced. At the moment we’re examining different aspects of the games, and the analysts are brilliant: people like Peter Canavan, Jamsie O’Connor, Ollie Canning, Kieran Donaghy. They’ve such knowledge and wisdom. And we’ve had on guests to look back over their careers and pick out highlights. Once championship kicks in, it’ll be previews and reviews and games – they’ll be coming thick and fast and there’ll be so much to talk about.
It's been a strange year in television as much as anything else.
It’s been mad. We never thought the whole thing would last this long. But, hopefully, the inter-county will go ahead as planned. Everything is on a week-to-week basis at the moment but, back in March, I feared there’d be no GAA, no sporting action at all, for the year. So to think now we hopefully have a championship is fantastic. It’s really something to look forward to. It’ll be strange but a once-in-a-lifetime experience to have All-Ireland finals a week before Christmas. We might even get an appearance from Santa, you never know! You can see the headlines already: 'An early Christmas present for Kerry footballers…’
Sky Sports’ GAA coverage is much more measured and thoughtful than the cartoonish "hype it up" stereotype.
The emphasis is on analysis. As a fan and a viewer, you want to learn something. These are people who’ve played at the highest level and also have experience of analysing. You want to hear their views on things. I love hearing about tactics: what’s worked or hasn’t, and why has it worked or not. You’re constantly learning from these guys, they’re really innovative and there’s nobody talking over people too much; it’s more like a conversation that evolves during the match. That’s what I really enjoy about it. They’ve won All-Irelands, constantly dealt with high-pressure, are back training and playing with their clubs now so still very much involved. They’re giving back.
That’s one of the best things about the GAA.
You can say it about a lot of sports but it’s especially true in GAA: so many players have that ethos of giving back when they finish. You give back to where you came from. They get involved in coaching or mentoring, selling lottery tickets, anything – just being involved with the community. A lot of people come together because of the GAA. And it’s fun.
What involvement do you have with the GAA?
My club at home is Scotstown where I was PRO and involved with Scór. I actually won an All-Ireland, with the instrumental group. Then I moved to Connemara where our club is Naomh Anna Leitir Móir. It’s a great way to be part of a community. I’m on the committee and my husband and myself help train the under 6s and under 8s. I’m Covid officer for those groups too!
Did you play much yourself?
No, the ladies’ club didn’t come into existence until the 1990s when I was already a teenager, and I only went for a few months. Maybe I didn’t get the push to keep at it, which I regret. I have a daughter now and there are more opportunities and sporting role models for girls these days.
But you need boots on the ground: people willing to give their time to train kids. That’s what I loved about the new 20x20 campaign: ‘No proving, just moving’, which is for everyone, no matter what their level of fitness. It’s important for girls, and boys, to see what their mothers can do, or other major female influences in their lives. It’s about getting out and exercising, doing things. Sport is so important, physically and mentally. Especially during Covid, it’s been great for my sanity. I went from full-time work to being a full-time mom, which I loved but was also challenging. So just to get out and clear my head was great. It puts you in a better mood.
How did someone from Monaghan end up such a fluent gaelgeoir?
I didn’t go to gaelscoil, I just loved Irish growing up. My granny was a primary teacher and she loved Irish. She always spoke it to me. And I found it easy, to be honest. I was good at it in school. After Leaving Cert I had this notion to do Business with French and Spanish, so went to McGee College in Derry. I remember sitting in class and everything in my head was through Irish! I was asking myself, why am I here, this is really tough! So I transferred to Coleraine for a degree in History and Irish. I loved that, then taught for a few years in Monaghan and Dublin.
Are you still covering ladies’ football for TG4?
No, the ladies’ championship will take place, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to do Peil na mBan because the dates clash. But I think Sky are covering the final.