Dynamic duo | 

RTE's Sarah McInerney and Cormac Ó hEadhra ready to become Irish radio's driving force

Meet the two new hard-hitting interviewers charged with taking our politicians to task on Radio 1

DREAM TEAM: Sarah McInerney and Cormac Ó hEadhra are taking over on Drivetime with Mary Wilson moving to Morning Ireland

Caoimhe Young

DRIVETIME presenters Sarah McInerney and Cormac Ó hEadhra have one week down on what can only be described as the biggest jobs of their careers.

The two have only met in the flesh for a few socially distanced coffees, but their chemistry, if any, will be played out for all of us to hear on the 4.30 to 7pm slot on Radio 1, with Mary Wilson gone to Morning Ireland.

"I don't think we will be the Irish Ant & Dec of Radio 1 anyway? That wouldn't work," laughs McInerney.

Both political junkies, with steady and impressive careers so far, neither is afraid to ask difficult questions. In fact, McInerney seems at home taking on our politicians and policy makers at a time where we've had leaders grappling with a world pandemic, double-standards with Golf Gate and a new taoiseach.

Galway-born McInerney, a mum of two boys aged two and six (Caelan and Ben) admits: "I'd always be up for having a bit of a row.

"It only works if you are in the right company. I really don't do it with most people in my life.

"Funnily enough, we would always have debates at home around the dinner table, not political debates. We would argue about everything and enjoy a battle of the minds."

Her co-host Ó hEadhra (39), bilingual and Connemara-born, is coming from his own drive-time show on Radió Na Gaeltachta - and is a fierce interviewer himself. He shrugs when I ask him who is going to be good cop?

"Maybe we will just row with each other and give all the guests a free pass," he says with a laugh.

McInerney cut her teeth in the Sunday Tribune, starting off as a showbiz reporter, but soon making her way to current affairs and hard news, and the fun of the scoop.

And with 15 years of newspapers under her belt, her latest exclusive high had to be the good news story of the summer - the Galway cousins who survived a gruelling 15 hours lost as sea when the wind was so strong, nobody could hear their screams.

"I felt a really, really strong connection to that story from the outset," she says. "I was actually on the phone to my sister, who was on holidays in Lahinch at the time and it was very early in the morning, and we were chatting about something completely different.

"Then she just said: 'Sarah did you know about the two girls who have gone missing off Furbo Beach?' It was early, on my way to work, she went really quiet about it and then I did too. We were quite emotional immediately. It was literally just back the road from where I grew up in Barna and it could have been any of us, it has been such a hard year for everyone and now this."

But the dread of a huge loss to her local community became a worldwide tale of survival and McInerney - then filling in after Sean O'Rourke's retirement in May - was host of the first radio show to nab the younger survivor, Ellen Glynn (17) for an interview on air.

"I was feeling very heavy that evening and then for them to have survived the next day. There was a further connection when it emerged the fisherman Patrick Oliver, who saved them, was married to a really good school friend of mine, Suzanne.

"They interrupted an interview to tell me Ellen was on the line, live on air and she was well able to tell the story, and to hear her talk about the waves crashing over their heads, and dosing off and waking up, it was an amazing moment.

"I suppose it was just knowing the beach and the area so well and having spent so many summers there. It was so close to home."

Taking on O'Rourke's slot - and the late Marian Finucanes's before Brendan O'Connor - was a golden chance for McInerney to shine and she did.

"When I started in RTÉ when I was leaving - I was touched by it.

"It takes so much effort to buy a card, to post it and to write something. That's effort, not to write nasty things, which I would have been used to in newspapers.

"There were some beautiful messages. There was one in particular from this guy Tom, who simply signed off, 'Help'. He told me he used to go to the shopping centre every day, for heat and light and company before lockdown. He used to sit there for those three things, and he's really scared about what's going to happen in the winter.

"He didn't leave a name or a number. As a pensioner, he is really not surviving on the money he is getting and my heart broke for him, but to know what life is like for Tom makes a difference in my head when I am questioning politicians about the Budget.

"The funny thing that people were saying too is 'you've been a friend to me,' or 'you've been a great companion'."

Ó hEadhra, a dad of one, is equally aware that Radio 1 is the heartbeat of the day in homes all over Ireland - city and country.

"It willbe an informed cafe style show. We will have fun in there too.

"The Irish have a free and easy way, chatting to people on the street - it will come back because it is in our DNA. Please God, Covid will go away and personally, I know radio is important as we find our way back."

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