Before another busy year of Sky Sports coverage begins, pundit Barrie McDermott takes the hot seat and answers your questions.
John Knox: Which Super League fixture are you most looking forward to this year?
As always it’s the first one – Hull FC v Hull KR for a few different reasons. Hull KR have a lot of promise and Hull FC, with some challenges, have made a lot of changes to the roster and the Tony Smith effect should start to bear fruit, so that should be a fascinating game. But as always, at this time of year I can’t wait for it all to get going.
sam4731: How will the standard of punditry be affected by the decision to put all games on telly? Are there enough pundits/commentators waiting in the wings to allow for it?
As you can see from what has recently been announced, Kyle Amor, Dave Woods and Mark Wilson are all coming in. Having worked in teams all my life you understand the need for competition for places, and the variety of commentators now, will for the viewers, give every game over the course of a weekend its own individual sound. With new people coming into the team, naturally those of us that have been there for a long time now have to use our experience and knowledge to keep doing the things that we’re good at, but also feed off the new people coming in. It freshens everybody up and brings a new dynamic because it makes those of us that have been there a while think differently and react differently because it’s new people and there isn’t that familiarity. Myself and Tez (Terry O’Connor) have known each other for over 30 years so we have an understanding and a rhythm that is unique to us, and I’m looking forward to creating some of those bonds with new members of the team. And as with everything now, it’s not just a man’s world, without a doubt it is a women’s world as well, so seeing the different input that the girls who will be working alongside us can provide will give it a different feel and a different sound for the people sat at home.
LaniM: What will Dave Woods, Kyle Amor and Mark Wilson add to the Sky team?
We’ll have to wait and see what they add, but Woodsy has been in the game forever, Mark has been in sport forever, and been in rugby league for a while – he’s a Bradford fan so we always have a bit of banter over the Leeds/Bradford thing. Kyle is fresh out of the game and we’ll have some other players who retired at the end of last season involved as well. Sam Tomkins will be there or thereabouts because he’s done an amazing job with Sky initially and then latterly with Channel 4. The girls that will be coming in will add something to the team as well. It’s about giving every single viewer, who maybe like one person and doesn’t lean towards another too much, a reason to keep their hands off the remote control, or keeping them from scrolling through social media.
John Knox: If you could change one rule in the game what would it be?
I’m slightly concerned with where we are going with the focus on tackle height and I do fear that if we make that too low, we may end up creating more issues and problems. More than anything I just want us to keep the integrity of the game. I know that we do have to change what we have done, we cant go back to the 1980s and dare I say the 1990s in my time, but what I want us to keep is our integrity. We can’t fiddle with the rules too much, the game is safer now than it has ever been and we just need to let it grow, let it breathe and let the players perfect the things we’re changing. I don’t want the tackle height rules go any further, but I am interested to see how the new rules coming in at the lower end of the game impact things. I am open minded about it, but wouldn’t want it to go any further.
CiderWire: Do you think that past players, such as yourself, Stuart Fielden, Kelvin Skerrett, Adrian Morley, to name a few, would be prevented from playing at the current top level of our sport due to the prohibitive contact rules and over-zealous officiating?
If I can lump myself in with those great players, what we would have been prevented from doing is playing the game the way that we played it back then. I am ultimately grateful that I played in the era I did, and I’d like to think that all those players, and more besides, the great players, would adapt to the rules that they play under today, because that’s the type of people they are. But I think back in our day we just had a bit more fun, we were a bit looser with the rules, the game was played slightly differently and it was a bit more confrontational. But, I do believe that good players are good players and they would have adapted, thrived and found a way to bend the rules a bit, just like we did back in our day.
Taurus: Are you in contact with Stuart Fielden? And have you ever done an interview when you weren’t asked about Stuart Fielden?
Josef K: Did you apologise to Paul Sironen at full time after you went in with the elbow when playing for Wigan against the Aussies?
Ironically, I have seen him a couple of times in recent years and he still hasn’t apologised to me so…!
moorside roughyed: Who in your opinion is the greatest prop forward ever in rugby league?
If I go back to when I used to watch the game, people like Kevin Ward. What he did when he was a Cas player, going over to Manly and then doing what he did in a Saints shirt, I used to look at him and think he was a bloke that played the game the way I would like to play it. People of my era also looked at guys like Andy Platt, Kelvin Skerrett, Karl Fairbank and thought that they were the standard bearers back in my time. The modern day prop forward now, Alex Walmsley is a terrific player, and I have always been a admirer of Mikolaj Oledzki, so if you look between when I was formatively looking at the game and when I watch it now, there is a whole host of players and the role has changed massively in that time. When I started watching the game, it was about scrums and making sure your team got the ball at that particular part of the game, now the role of a front rower can be a ball carrier, a ball player, he’s got everything in between. Defensively he can have 30 plus defensive efforts and that just wasn’t about when I was young. But if I had to pick two individuals that over those time periods that have really stood out, it would have to be Jamie Peacock and Adrian Morley. They were wonderful players who started in the back row and ended in the front row and changed the way the front row game is played.
DavidM: Who’s the toughest opponent you faced?
I would say it comes down to a shortlist of Paul Harragon, Shane Webcke and Terry O’Connor, and the last one is purely and simply because he would never shut up. In a game he was the king of sledging, to the point where I would get so distracted by him and so frustrated it would put me off my game. Plus, he’d have something to say about it if I didn’t mention him in this answer.
Futtocks: How did you compensate for the loss of an eye when it came to playing? The lack of depth perception must have made things tricky, especially when receiving a pass.
I’ve been asked this many times, but you overcome, you compensate and you adapt. For me the obstacle I had actually became my driving force. It made me more determined. People looked at me and I maybe looked a bit scary, and the way I played the game was very confrontational, so I’d say it was actually an asset. There was never any part of my game that suffered for it. I’d like to think I had a good offload, could pass the ball well and had good footwork, but I think my ultimate strength was my determination and determination to prove people wrong. That negativity was a blazing furnace inside me throughout my career and perhaps one of the things that drives me on now.
Barry Badrinath: When playing, did opposition props (old and young) speak to you for pointers on how to emulate your aggressive style or how to improve, or did you ever go out of your way to contact a young prop outside of your club to give him advice?
One thing we’re good at in rugby league is that we’re always available to help the next generation along. That was certainly something I did when I finished playing at Leeds by spending six years there as head of youth development. I always felt like I had a good connection with the younger players, and in particular the rough diamonds. My style of play has gone now, there is still aggression, still determination, but it doesn’t look the same. There are things that I learnt as I was going along as a professional that I would share, and still share. It’s a great privilege that the younger generation are open-minded enough to sit down with me and are respectful enough to take some of that on board, whether they then use it or not. I made some mistakes when I was a Wigan player and when I joined Leeds I didn’t want to be around a changing room where a player is struggling to fit in and adapt like I was at Wigan, and not be a good enough team mate to pass on some of that advice. I couldn’t sit and watch someone go to wrack and ruin, so even now, if I see a player that I feel could benefit from a sit down, a coffee, and a chat, I have no fear to reach out and give a bit of my time up.
Stainesrover: How did you come to play for Ireland internationally? McDermott sounds Scottish to me!
I am very proud of my Irish heritage, which comes through grandparents. I still have great time for Ged Corcoran and the Irish team, and I spent some time with them during the last World Cup. It’s just a shame we tap into all those RU players in the other home nations and can’t make Ireland work and give more support to the players who have the skills and the aptitude to play our game. We often talk about developing those areas, but we have never done enough to help it grow, cultivate and develop. That’s a great shame because rugby union is strong in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and as we know some of those union players, given enough time, could be exceptional in our sport. I’m very proud to have represented my family and Ireland, I have met some extremely passionate rugby league people, but we just need to give it a little bit more support – like everything though it takes money, time and plenty of boots on the ground to make it work.
John Knox: Do you think rugby league will eventually go back to part time?
When I joined the sport in 1991 I was told then it was down to its bare bones, but here we are 30-odd years later and it’s still here, it’s still alive. We’ve come a long way, but in my opinion we’ve gone stagnant in some areas, however I don’t think it would be a good thing to go part-time. I would hate to see the day that happens, so we have just got to work harder and as fans we have got to be evangelists and tell everyone we meet how good our sport is and talk about the positives. It’s a wonderful sport full of wonderful people – we just need to tell more people about it.
John Knox: Should dual registration be scrapped?
Dual reg works for some people, and everyone’s path to the first team is different. I signed as an 18 or 19 year-old for Oldham, went into the first team and flitted between there and the A Team (or reserves). I didn’t need to go out on dual reg, but now that clubs don’t put a massive emphasis on the reserves there is sometimes no option. Sometimes, for those younger players, the first time they play against men is in Super League or in the Championship at a really high level, which is perhaps too high for them. It needs to be in there as an option, but I’d also like to see clubs put a bigger emphasis on the Reserves.
M j M: Do you think rugby league in Oldham can ever regain its previous position and crowds or has the club been away too long?
I’d love to think it can get back to the top table. Mike Ford and his consortium, Frank Rothwell, a real local shining light who has put a lot of money into the town of Oldham, and Sean Long are certainly doing all they can to get Oldham out of the league they are in and climbing up that ladder. There is enough passion in Oldham to fill those terraces. Being back at Boundary Park is a massive step forward and they have made some really impressive signings. I have always been an admirer of Joe Wardle, but he’s just one of a number of players that have joined Oldham. Then if you think about local lads that have come back from playing elsewhere to play for their home town club, there’s none better than Jordan Turner. So I’d like to think to think they can do it.
M j M: What were car rides to training like with Iestyn Harris and Kevin Sinfield? Good banter or stoney silence?
Always very good banter. I feel very lucky to have spent hours and hours and hours on the M62 with those two, because they both taught me so much. Iestyn is an incredible rugby brain and an incredible maverick player, but also very professional. Kevin was the third member of our car, and when Iestyn left Leeds it was just Kev and I. We all know what Kev is about and he was like that from day dot. He was super impressive as a teenager and what I got from just being around him and learning from him has been invaluable. I’d like to think he learnt some things from me too. They were very fun trips, lots of laughing and very often I was the butt of their jokes. All good fun.
@The4thHulat: How many Barrie McDermotts could you fit in a mini?
Not many! I still weigh 18 stone.
9′ oller: Do daffodils sprouting make you feel optimistic?
No because as soon as I get over Christmas that’s when I start feeling optimistic – that’s when the friendlies start and we’re only a few weeks away from round one and the new season.
RigbyLuger: Did Phil Clarke ever offer fashion advice?
No, and I wouldn’t have listened to it anyway!
Hughsehhh: How was your back so enormous back in the day? What exercises were you doing?
Fortunately, physically and genetically, I am gifted due to my family make up and because of the way rugby league made me. I’m very self motivated. I’ve always been a gym rat, I loved training and I still train five or six times a week. When you’re in a team there is always people to train with, and when you retire it’s important to stay healthy. I still work out most days now, I do strength and conditioning and I run, I do all sorts. I commit to events goals and targets in my year to keep me motivated because I love my food, so it’s better to have a big back than a big (bigger) belly.
Queenie: How much do you owe to Rugby League World for kick-starting your media career?
People often ask me how I got started in the media, and basically I just said yes to whatever I was offered, and that would be my advice to any young player. Clubs have media managers and sometimes I think they protect players from expressing their personalities. I said yes to columns and yes to radio, then once I’d done that for a few years I got the opportunity to do a bit of stuff on TV, so yes I am grateful to Rugby League World for that chance. If we had players who said yes more, there are more than enough opportunities for them to carve out careers in the media as well.
Josef K: Do you listen to podcasts, and if so what are your faves?
My favourite at the moment is Rob Burrow’s one. It’s typical of Rob that he has every reason in the world not to be able to do a podcast, but he does it and it’s brilliant. He gets away with asking the cheekiest of questions. I listen to that one most, but I also listen to James Graham’s podcast, The High Performance podcast and Diary of a CEO. I do a lot of walking and running so that’s a great way to pass the time. I’d better also mention Off The Bench or Wilko (Jon Wilkin) and Jenna (Brooks) would never forgive me.
Josef K: What type of music do you have on when you’re in your car?
Believe it or not I love a bit of country music, so Absolute Country is my go-to station. Johnny Cash, Chris Stapleton Luke Combs can’t beat it!
Emma Broadhead: If you could attend any sporting event in the world which one would it be and why?
UFC in Las Vegas, because I absolutely love combat sports. If Conor McGregor ever gets back in the octagon I’d love to go and watch that. That would be some event.
Championship Rl: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of sports?
Family, health and fitness is a focus when I’m not working, so I have a fairly active routine. I train most days and am preparing for the Rob Burrow Marathon in May, so I’m getting a few miles done now. I have a little Staffie as well so I’m out walking every day. But as well as my work within rugby league I also work away from the game in the corporate world in finance and funding for small and medium-sized enterprises. That’s always a surprise to people and it’s something completely different. It is a career pathway I have developed over the last eight or nine years. I work alongside Mike Wainwright and Adrian Morley and we have started our own business together, so on the days I’m not involved with rugby league, I still get to be surrounded by rugby lads, which is great.
@tweamryanhall: Is there a coach or other athlete that you looked up to as a role model back in the day?
Being in Oldham we are surrounded by actors, actresses, footballers, cricketers, but one I have always admired is former Manchester United player Paul Scholes. He lives at the back of my house now, and we have daughters of a similar age who used to play netball together. I’ve always admired him and how he carries himself. I look at him and think he’s had an unbelievable career. He never says anything about his career because others say it for him. He’s one sportsman I have admired from afar, but I have also been lucky enough to spend a bit of time with and he’s a really impressive individual.
First published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 492 (January 2024)