The first test between the British and Irish Lions and New Zealand on Saturday morning will be one of the biggest global sporting events of the weekend – and an Abbeyleix native will have inside access like few others.
Shane Whelan is the Head of Digital for 6 Nations Rugby, a role that also includes the British and Irish Lions and he has been on tour with them for the past month as they seek to record a first series win against the All Blacks since 1977.
His role sounds like the dream job to anyone who loves sport and social media. With a combined audience of one million between Facebook and Twitter – as well as a significant following on Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube and, of course, the official Lions website – he manages a team that produce all the content for their digital media channels.
“We’re serving that demand every day,” he says when we spoke to him last week ahead of the clash against the New Zealand Maori. “It has to be wall to wall coverage in both time zones – in New Zealand and in Ireland and Britain.
“We have a behind-the-scenes film crew working all the time. I also worked for some of the last Lions tour (in Australia in 2013) when we were putting out one or two stories per day. Now we we’re putting out four or five videos a day. We do our team announcements on Snapchat and Facebook which have to be a different length.
“We are on the pitch beforehand, we are in the dressing room and we have instant reaction from players which is out five-ten minutes after the game finishes.
“We have match footage after the including some of the tries from the host broadcaster and all of that has to be edited.”
Shane reports directly to the Chief Executive of the Lions operation and also works closely with Dave Barton, the Head of Communications, who also has a team working on the PR side, and who produces the overall communications strategy.
A past pupil of Scoil Mhuire in Abbeyleix and Heywood, Shane studied Broadcasting in Dun Laoighaire and had jobs in East Coast Radio, Setanta Sports and with the Press Association. He also worked with Basketball Ireland as Media Manager for six years before joining 6 Nations Rugby at the end of 2012. At the time 6 Nations Rugby also incorporated the Pro12. They have since become a separate entity with his job focusing now on the 6 Nations and the Lions Tour, which he says the planning starts up to two years ahead of the first game.
He was always “mad into sports”, he says. His late father Billy ‘Sabu’ Whelan was a selector with Georgie Leahy with the Laois hurlers in the early 1980s and he says his mother Betty “gets a great kick out of his job”.
With the coaches, management and all the backroom staff all staying in the same hotels and travelling together, the wins and losses are experience of winning and losing is shared by everyone.
“To be honest, I was always mad into sport anyway and had a strong desire to work with a team of this nature. It’s a phenomenal experience. You get access to everything on matchday. It’s demanding but it’s very rewarding.”
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