‘It was sport and politics colliding’ – Behind the camera lens on that historic day in Croke Park
‘It was sport and politics colliding’ – Behind the camera lens on that historic day in Croke Park

‘It was sport and politics colliding’ – Behind the camera lens on that historic day in Croke Park

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INPHO PHOTOGRAPHER MORGAN Treacy was at the historic 2007 Ireland-England Croke Park Six Nations encounter, which is exactly 10 years old tomorrow.

Below, Treacy chats to The42 about some of the most memorable images taken by himself and his colleagues, as Eddie O’Sullivan’s side defeated their opponents in emphatic, unforgettable fashion in front of a packed crowd.

Protestors outside Croke Park. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

PSNI Chief Constable Hugh Orde in the crowd. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

What are your memories from the day?

It was definitely way outside our brief — what we would have sat down and talked about before and what we normally do. There were so many things going on.

Stuff like the political angle, which normally wouldn’t play a huge part in what we do at matches, but that was a big thing for us as well — getting politicians in the crowd.

We knew there would be protests, everyone did. I was put on that beforehand to cover them. I don’t remember there being any particularly nasty threat. I never got the impression that there was a real menace in the air. It was almost perfunctory.

It was a small minority and it was almost like they’d accepted it. Most people felt this is happening and it’s for the best. The protests seem irrelevant now.

Paul O’Connell of Ireland over Jonny Wilkinson and Tom Rees of England. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

What’s going through a photographer’s head prior to a big game like that? Is it nerve-racking at all? Does it feel different or more challenging than usual?

Everything’s magnified about it — even the build-up to it. We have quite a few photographers. We would have had more then, but you’d want to be on it, because you might not be doing it — there might be other (sporting events) on that day. If you’re on it, that’s great.

A day or two before, we’d all be called in and have a proper meeting about it. Throwing around ideas and putting in a schedule of what we need to do and who needs to do it.

On the day itself, you’d be up for it. It’s not like doing a normal match. You’d definitely feel that there’s something different. And you’d have to perform on the day – it’s a huge occasion. It’s like an All-Ireland final. There’s a definite difference doing an All-Ireland final compared with a regular championship game.

Ireland’s Paul O’Connell and Martin Corry of England. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A general view of a lineout in Croke Park in front of the big screen. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Is there an image that stands out in your memory of that day?

The big wide shot of a lineout. I took a version of it but I don’t think I took the more famous one. That sticks in my mind as being one of the defining images of it. It was bigger than a single sports action picture. It needed a big picture to try to encompass the occasion.

It’s not my picture, I can’t remember whose it was. It wasn’t your standard action shot. It took in the whole stadium, the packed stadium and it was Paul O’Connell reaching up higher than the English players and collecting the ball. That to me summed it up in terms of an action picture more than anything.

In an All-Ireland final, it’s rarely an action shot — a close-in with a long lens of two guys and a ball, tackling or whatever — that will get on the front pages the next day. It’s a much wider pic that sums up the game, which gives context to the occasion.

That lineout shot definitely showed the enormity of it. But it’s hard to capture. There was so much going on that day from the protest to the amount of politicians that were there. It was sport and politics colliding. One thing I do remember was a general sense of relief around Croke Park that we hadn’t been beaten by England, because there was real disappointment from two weeks before (when Ireland lost the first Croke Park Six Nations game to France).

Brian O’Driscoll of Ireland tackles Olly Morgan of England. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Do you ever know you’ve taken THE image – the one that will be on all the back (and sometimes front) pages the next day?

You tend to know. It can revolve around the story of the game.

That game would be harder to tell what would sum up the day. We definitely would have talked about trying to show the enormity of the occasion and that would be in most sports photographer’s minds. It’s not going to be a guy getting over the line. It is going to be a celebration picture or, God forbid, a dejection picture.

I don’t think I could have predicted it was going to be that live lineout shot. In a game with so many factors — political angles, sporting angles — it was hard to predict, because it doesn’t come around too often. It would be easier to predict after the game when you’re looking at your pictures and you say ‘that’s the moment’.

The Ireland-England game was harder because there was so much more to it than any other game really. I can’t think of another game that had that significance.

Brian O’Driscoll and John Hayes during the national anthem. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Donncha O’Callaghan, Peter Stringer and Paul O’Connell with a tear in his eyes during the national anthem. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There are two of when they lineup for the national anthems where Paul O’Connell and John Hayes are crying, while Brian O’Drisoll is also pictured looking remarkably pensive. I’d imagine this must be the kind of moment where a photographer thinks ‘I’ve hit the jackpot,’ because they are obviously such strong and powerful images.  

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It sounds a bit callous, but if you did see tears on such an emotional day, you would see it looking at the point of view of how powerful it is. It does make a great picture, so you would be looking out for those things definitely.

We would have talked about this in our meetings beforehand, saying it’s an emotional time, so we would have someone on tight shots to possibly get a reaction of individual players to the emotion of the day.

Did the fact that most people would have seen it on TV make people less inclined to use the image of Hayes in newspapers etc?

You would notice over the years that television can dictate what makes the news because of what everyone has seen on TV. But we’ve noticed at the same time that a picture can dictate what makes the news. Maybe television didn’t get it and the photographer did get it, and it’s gone everywhere or been on every front page, and that makes the news then. News broadcasts pick up on that, so it can go both ways.

If everyone picked up on John Hayes crying, it would influence the picture editors and they would be looking for that from us, so we’d have to be aware of that.

Girvan Dempsey of Ireland makes a burst. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

I’d imagine tries in general can often be very difficult to adequately capture, particularly when there are so many bodies around the ball etc?

They all have their different challenges. A goal can happen very quick and sometimes can be from anywhere. Goals in soccer tend to be the hardest to get. Certain tries in rugby can be just a mess and don’t make a picture. Others can be great.

Ireland’s Shane Horgan wins the ball in the air over Mike Tindall of England. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Shane Horgan fields the ball and scores a try despite the attentions of England’s Josh Lewsey. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Shane Horgan touching down almost GAA-style after Ronan O’Gara’s kick. I’d imagine this must have been a very difficult image to capture because it happened so quickly?

It’s tricky enough but we’d be experienced enough at this stage. If you’re doing a lot of rugby, you get in tune to the movement of it.

You generally know where the ball is going to go. You have to follow it almost a step ahead. You get used to working in that split second timeframe when O’Gara kicked the ball up high and you know what he’s doing, where it’s going. If you’re sitting on his side, you see Shane Horgan running in. You start taking pictures from the point where he starts to run in, because you know what he’s going to do.

Jonny Wilkinson looks dejected. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There’s a pic with Jonny Wilkinson standing alone in the rain. It’s symbolic of the English team at large and how utterly overwhelmed they were that day. Is that pic as hard as it looks to capture, or is it the kind of thing you were likely to get just by pointing the camera at any English player that day?

It can be as easy as that, but if you’re looking for it, you could (easily capture it). As the game progressed and you saw England being beaten, you would definitely be looking for shots to show he wasn’t happy, because you know at the end of the game that it will be a certain element of the story.

So as much as you’re looking for Ireland scoring tries, you would also be looking for the other story of the defeated team and especially the bigger players. You would be looking to show how they’re really feeling at a particular time, but that can be tricky, especially if it’s something you’re looking to do.

Rory Best looks on as Paul O’Connell, John Hayes, Girvan Dempsey and Shane Horgan walk away. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There’s one that you took of Rory Best where it looks as if he’s just standing there in awe while other players are walking away, as if he’s just been temporarily bowled over by the enormity of the occasion and completely taken in by the moment.

He could just be exhausted. A lot of the time we read too much into images. He could be like ‘oh my god,’ and he’s taking it all in, or he could just be wrecked.

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