Over the last year World Rowing have expanded their commentary teams with the addition of Niamh Hayes and Brian Richardson to their international schedule. We caught up with Niamh and Richie to find out how they got the World Rowing call up, their experiences this season and what is in store for them in the future.

How and when did you both get involved in rowing?

Niamh: I started coastal rowing with my local club, Galley Flash Rowing Club, when I was eight years old. My brother had been a member for a few years, then my sister joined, and my mum, so it was only natural that I followed suit. I first sat into a boat when I was eight and competed in my first All-Ireland when I was ten. Since then, I have competed every season, bar two. In college I took up river rowing with CIT and competed at the University Championships and after that experience of sculling, I decided to try my hand at offshore rowing and fell head over heels in love with the sport. I primarily row in a single scull but have also competed in a double and coxed quad. I have competed at four World Rowing Coastal Championships and two World Rowing Indoor Championships. I also am a cox and coach at my club.

Richie: I joined St Michael’s Limerick in the early 90’s as my school was nearby and there was a bunch of us who started there together. I competed for most of the 90’s at Junior and a season or two as Intermediate, but was always involved in the club’s administration too as PRO, and on rowing committees and then as Club Captain in 1999. I got great experience working with local papers, radio and RTE in providing results, regatta reports and photographs.

How did you then move into Commentating?

Niamh: I started a podcast all about rowing in Ireland at the start of 2020 and it was from this that I got into commentary. One of my first interviews was with Joe Cantillon who runs the Irish Indoor Rowing Championships. He asked me if I’d be interested in doing some commentary at the next indoor event. This was in 2020 and because of the pandemic, he ran a series of virtual indoor competitions, and I commentated for each of these. I also commentated at the 2020 Irish Offshore Championships. This was my first experience of ‘on-water’ commentary. Since then I have commentated at local and national regattas in offshore, coastal, beach sprints, river and indoor rowing.

Richie: I was working at the Senior Champs in the first year it was in Inniscarra in the 90’s and someone thought it was a great idea to put a 16 year old on the 500 metre mark with a walkie talkie for two days to give an update on races as they passed. I had no idea of the club colours, rates, the crews or the results from the season. I gave my best squeaky voice updates on the races. I was famously forgotten about at the end of the racing when the launches sped down the course following the Men’s Seniors 8s, and it was a good half hour later before anyone heard me on the radio and came back to pick me up.

I then started commentating at Limerick Regatta learning from the legendary Tony Tynne. From there I started doing more events when Joe Cantillon asked me to commentate at the Indoors. I had never been there before and was blown away by the atmosphere with spectators right beside all the action. I volunteered at the Champs for a few years, working in the office making announcements, giving results and updates. From there I joined the commentary team usually working the finish line (standing on a table on the balcony). I got to commentate at the Coupe the year Ireland hosted it in Cork. That was the first event I was out on the water commentating and it’s a world away from watching a race from a stationary position.

Niamh and I joined an online training course organised for Offshore by Mags Deasy with Peter O’Hanlon from World Rowing. We did some training exercises and he helped us out with how to approach commentating. It was a great session and that’s what put it in my mind to try get some more experience at events and I offered to join the Offshore events for 2022.

What was the process for joining World Rowing’s commentating crew?

Niamh: World Rowing put a call-out for commentators at the end of 2021. After getting into commentary the year previous, I knew this was where I wanted to go so when I saw the ad, I jumped at the chance. I submitted a video and audio application and in February of 2022, I got an email to say I had been picked to commentate at two international regattas. I will never forget the moment I read the email. I cried tears of happiness because it felt like a dream was coming true!

Richie: Similar to Niamh, I saw the World Rowing post on Twitter and thought I’d give it a go. If you’re not in, you can win and all that. I had to record a 12 minute commentary on the Women’s Pairs final at the 2019 World Championships. I watched the Youtube recording a few times, made my notes and then hit the record button on my phone. I sent it off just after Christmas and happily forgot about it until the email came through from World Rowing inviting me to join the team at World Cup I in Belgrade, Serbia. It was great to see Niamh’s name there too and it wasn’t long before we linked up and started helping each out with in the preparation for our gigs.

Have you worked together at events in Ireland and with World Rowing?

Niamh: I have worked with Richie at a number of events this year. Our first gig together was the Beach Sprints ranking regatta at Duneen Beach in West Cork. It was Richie’s first time at a beach sprints event but he absolutely smashed it! Then he invited me to the NRC to try my hand at some river rowing commentary at the 1km Classic Regatta. Not knowing rowers, clubs and colours the same way I would at coastal and offshore events, made it quite tricky but Richie really helped me along the way. And then we teamed up again at the Irish Offshore Rowing Championships in Wicklow in September. I was also competing at the event so Richie had to pick up a lot of the slack but he did an incredible job, especially when he was thrown in at the deep end in terms of the windy and wet conditions. One of my highlights of that weekend was being out in a rib for the last few races in the pouring rain with huge crashing waves and seeing Richie hold on for dear life while sounding cool as a breeze over the microphone!  I commentated for the World Rowing U23 and U19 Championships in Italy in July and the World Rowing Beach Sprint Finals in Wales in October. Richie and I haven’t worked together at a World Rowing event yet but I’m sure it’ll happen sometime soon!

Richie: The Beach sprints was our first gig together and Niamh had put together notes on the crews so I almost sounded like I knew what was going on. It was a great event and so exciting to watch compared to river rowing. We even had a photo finish to see which rower hit the buzzer at the finish. The St Michael’s boys were there and quailed for the Homes and Worlds. On top of that we had sunshine, pilot whales passing by the course and I had my first swim of the season at the end of the day. This is how rowing should be!

Niamh and I caught up at the 1K Classic too so I was able to help Niamh out with that set up. Very little time to catch your breath compared to Beach Sprints.

I’ve blocked the Offshore Champs out of my mind due to PTSD…I turned up in my shorts and tshirt and binoculars round my neck looking for the cosy tent to commentate from and was then told to get into a rib with 120 horse power engine that took off like we were doing a lap around Ireland. I thought that was stressful enough until Sunday when a storm was coming in. Niamh and I were out together in the smallest rib in existence. I phoned my family to say goodbye at one stage and made peace with this is where I meet my end. It was made all the worse when we got back to hear Mags and Sharon say that it was only baby waves.

I commented at this year’s World Championships in the Czech Republic and it was very intense but an amazing eight days of work. I got too meet some of my rowing hero’s and to commentate on some of the very best of races along with meeting all of the crews. It was the best experience and I think my commentating got much better thanks to help from my World Rowing colleagues Pete O’Hanlon and Robert Treharne Jones giving great feedback and pointers.

What advice have you for anyone looking to get involved in commentating?

Niamh: Don’t be afraid to tell people you are interested in doing some commentary and offer to give a hand at as any many events as possible. We all had to start somewhere and I still consider myself very new to it with still a lot to learn. With every event you go to and every race you commentate on, you learn something new, so offer your time and build up some confidence and you never know where it will take you!

Richie: Dive straight in and start with just one race. The quickest summary is we are aiming to tell people what race is on, who is in each lane and how the race is going. Contact the organisers of a local event as the course, the clubs and crews would be some bit familiar. There’s plenty of events who would love to have you involved. I’ll be at Limerick Regatta if anyone wants to give it a try.

Niamh and I will be happy to help anyone give it a go. We are looking to put a crew together to commentate at the Home Internationals next year, which Ireland are hosting. We want to take our experience of the World Rowing set ups to create something new for the Home Internationals. Our colleagues at World Rowing have also offered to do some training with anyone interested via Zoom which we schedule that in January or February.

What’s next for you both?

Niamh: I have one last regatta to compete in this year. That is the European Coastal Championships in Spain at the end of October and then it’ll be head down and train hard for the winter. In terms of commentary, I’ll hopefully be doing the indoor rowing events over the winter and then as many World Rowing events as possible in 2023.

Richie: Niamh and I will be teaming up for the Indoors in UL in Nov and again in January. We’ll be starting the planning for the Home Internationals commentary also which is very exciting and really looking forward to us working together on it. Both of us should hear from World Rowing in December about the schedule for next year. It would be great to work at a regatta together but there’s a danger that two Irish people talking together would end up with us talking too quick and no one would understand us!