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06th Jan 2023

Hurling pundit Ursula Jacob: “They’re not questioning what I’m saying because I’m a woman”

Niall McIntyre

When Ursula Jacob was first asked to do the hurling on The Sunday Game, she had to do a double-take.

Jacob had been working as a camogie pundit for four years at that stage but until then, she hadn’t considered the prospect of working on the men’s game.

But along with Anna Geary, she was given the opportunity and, along with Anna Geary, even though it was a case of being thrown-in-at-the-deep-end, she didn’t think twice.

“I’m going into my fourth year doing the hurling now,” the six-time All-Ireland winner with club and county tells us now.

“Originally, I was like ‘are they serious?’

“It was normally all male pundits, but I remember meeting with all the other male pundits and they handed out our schedules and it was just kind of ‘off you go, you’ll be working on this game,'” recalls Jacob, who was speaking today at the launch of Electric Ireland’s partnership with camogie.

The Oulart-the-Ballagh woman admits that it was slightly daunting at first but, coming from a strong hurling family, she had plenty of practice down through the years.

“When I’m at home, talking with friends or my brothers or my father, we’re all talking about the game.

“They’re not questioning what I’m saying because I’m a woman, they’ll only question if they don’t agree with it. So as long as I can back up my opinion with facts, that’s the most important thing,” she adds.

Punditry can be an unforgiving game at times – Jacob took to Twitter last year to call out the trolls – but the four-time All-Star is thankful to the strong supporting cast she has around her.

“It’s constantly a learning curve. I remember how good Cyril Farrell was to me at the start, like a father figure nearly, making sure I was okay and knew what I was doing.

“Because that is the deep-end and you sink or swim.”

“There’s plenty of people looking to see you making a mistake. But there’s also lots of decent, kind people who understand that, when you’re live, you might get something wrong in a split second. But look, I’ve a great support network behind me, between my husband and family – they’d all give me a bit of feedback anyway…”

Jacob says that one pundit she really admires is Lisa Fallon, the former Southampton player and coach at Chelsea, who works on RTE’s soccer coverage.

“Someone who I really admire is Lisa Fallon with the soccer, she’s one of the best out there. So knowledgeable and confident and that’s someone I aspire to be like.

“You learn more and more every year. Learn from Des, Joanne, from the guys I’ve worked with. I’ve never had media training but you just have to remember that, at the end of the day, you’re just talking about hurling or camogie. So just call it as it is.”

“The biggest thing I’ve learned I suppose is that you have to be straight to the point, you can’t be long-winded about your point. Because it is very fast-paced.

“For me, it’s so important to be prepared. So when I’m on tele, I treat it like a game, I prepare for it like a game. When I was playing a game, my preparation was so important, and it’s the same now. So if I’m on The Sunday Game, I’ll set a certain amount of time aside every evening when I get home from work to do research ahead of it. And that’s the way you have to be. You’ll always have people who’ll knock you…”

Hurling and camogie are certainly things she knows more about than most, having starred for club and county for years but having had a child this year, she decided the time was right to finally hang up the boots.

She was tempted – of course she was – to make a comeback when Oulart-the-Ballagh made it back to another Leinster final this year but even though they only lost by a point and even though she could have made a difference, she sees now that there’s no point in having regrets.

“I went to the county semi-final a week after I gave birth and it was probably a bad decision because I’d say, from the baby, I hadn’t slept for the whole week. It was very strange watching on. Mary and Una Leacy and Karen Atkinson won their fifteenth county title, which is just unbelievable.

“It was probably harder though watching the Leinster final against St Vincent’s, when the game was so tight. I remember walking into the venue and the women from the Leinster council asked me ‘have you got your gear in the car?’ I was nearly thinking ‘God, maybe I should have brought it.’

“But look, I was there with me six or seven week old baby. I was ready to retire when I did and I was content to just be supporting the girls.”