Michael Kealy Ireland Eurovision 2018 Head of Delegation

No country has won Eurovision more times. But in recent years, Ireland’s song contest record has been far from stellar.

In a bid to counter the downward spiral, national broadcaster RTÉ unveiled a new and improved selection method for 2017. But has it worked?

On Wednesday last, we caught up with the Irish Head of Delegation Michael Kealy at Maynooth University’s Eurovision Conference. Here’s what he had to say.

Ireland’s Eurovision 2018 selection process

First, a quick catch-up.

The Eurovision Forum think tank kick started Ireland’s new approach back in August. An open call for songs took place throughout the autumn. Next, a panel of experts drawn from numerous fields sifted through the shortlisted entries in the weeks immediately following the Christmas break.

In the end, Ryan O’Shaughnessy emerged as the Irish candidate for Eurovision 2018 and will sing “Together” in Lisbon.

But despite all this, many have felt that the “new path” is taking Ireland back to the same place. What is Michael’s response?

I can understand why people would say that. At the end of the day, we only have the songs that we get sent in to work with. People don’t believe me when I say that the standards in the past and, including now, the process that we started in 2017, the songs that we get in are very much a mixed bag.

I would say one in ten is a credible song. There’s a lot of wannabes out there. There’s a lot of people who are hobbyists, who have no track record in writing music, no track record in songwriting. But yet who feel that Eurovision is a great place to kick of their musical career.

I’m trying to change that perception. This is a top professional international competition. I want top professionals.

Michael also points out that Ireland is not known for its pop tradition, observing that the country does have a very good reputation for ballads — “That’s what we do well. I think this is a really good song”.

While RTÉ ran an open submission for entries, from which Ryan and “Together” came, the broadcaster had also stated that they would approach organisations and individuals directly if needs be. Did this happen?

I did have chats with other artists, who I thought were really good and I think would still be very good to represent Ireland in the future. But for various reasons those didn’t really work out.

But anybody I was speaking to, we’re all still the best of friends and the door certainly isn’t closed to revisiting that in the future.

Ireland’s aim now is to qualify. But what happens if things don’t go as planned in May? Will the new process be kept?

I think it’s a better way of choosing the song. I know that some people give out about the fact that the public don’t have a say in what we do and that is true.

But one of the things I did before we arrived at this process was, I looked at what other countries were doing. And a lot of other countries who were like us not enjoying great results decided to opt for internal selections.

We take back much more control when we do that. When you ask the public what they think of various songs, you don’t necessarily always get the answer you want.

Michael Kealy’s future as Irish Head of Delegation

The 2018 contest marks Michael’s seventh non-consecutive year in charge of RTÉ’s Eurovision delegation. His first stint was in 2008. He returned again in 2013 and has overseen proceedings ever since.

Avid Eurofans will be quick to spot that his stewardship hasn’t been the most successful — six non-qualifications and one last place in the final. But how does Michael feel about it. How long more does he plan to steer the Irish ship?

For all the abuse I get online — people telling me to resign and all that kind of stuff — that’s fine, that’s my job, I’ll take that on the chin. I’ll do it as long as I’m asked to do it in RTÉ. But I would definitely like to see a final again, if not two. And the dream is to bring it back to Ireland and I would love to be head of delegation when that happens.

If I won it, I would hang up my hat.

Michael Kealy Head of Delegation Ireland Eurovision 2018 — Interview

You can watch the full interview with Michael Kealy below. In it, the Irish chief also shares his main takeaways from last week’s Head of Delegation meeting in Lisbon.

Additionally, he muses on how Ireland plans to stage the entry without LEDs, hinting that the love story from the “Together” music video is likely to be incorporated in some way.

And as we previously reported, Michael confirmed that Russia has not threatened to ban the Irish music video.

What do you think? Could 2018 be the year that sees Ireland return to the grand final? Is their new selection process working? Let us know in the comments below.

FOLLOW ALL OF OUR IRELAND EUROVISION 2018 NEWS.

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Liam Holton
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Liam Holton

“If I win, I will hang up my hat.” He’ll be there til he dies 😛

Dennis L.
Guest

Last year saw the first completely internal selection by RTÉ, in which Nicky Byrne was chosen to represent Ireland by Michael Kealy, the Head of Delegation for Ireland, while Brendan Murray was selected this year by entertainment manager and X Factor judge, Louis Walsh.

Michael Gray
Guest
Michael Gray

Shame on management at Rte failing to replace this guy . He’s had ample time and opportunity to do the job and has failed………….MISERABLY !!!
For God’s sake RTE , cop yourselves on and replace him with somebody that actually gets Modern eurovision . Stop wasting time and money !!! No wonder you’re broke !!

Peter M
Guest
Peter M

Michael Kealy hasn’t a clue. Probably yet another person at RTE who got in there because he’s related to someone or knew someone before he went in. No doubt he’s on a 6-figure salary. If most people deliver consistent failure in their jobs, they get fired. This guy wants to stay on for as long as possible, delivering non-qualification after non-qualification. Also, he makes it sound as if he’s not responsible for the low quality of songs being submitted. If that’s the case, then he should be the one chasing for an artist and a song to bring Ireland back… Read more »

Vanuatu
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Vanuatu

This song is boring… and that clip? the song is all about how the couple is done and the whole videoclip is 2 gay man (by the way, shame on that, what to they expect, the gay vote?… despicable) loving each other in an weird way, like if they are afraid to come out from the closet… And again a guy singing like a castrati, 2 yeras in a row…Terrible Ireland 2018. like always lately, to be fair. I expect a big fat bottom in their semi.

Denis
Guest
Denis

Not known for pop music?
Huh, this guy doesn¨t seem to known his own country´s history. Ironically a pop song gave Ireland it´s last best place, probably because it was so unexpected from them to send it. It was the most modern song Ireland ever sent and that is why it worked.
Get back to that, instead of sending varieties of the same song since 2015.

Aisling
Guest
Aisling

It didn’t really work though… came last :/

Mar
Guest
Mar

I appreciate that Ireland play to their strengths and don’t just buy Melfest reject every year like some others do. But debuting an all-new selecting strategy and ending up with the same dire song you’ve been sending since 2015… I just can’t support that.
If Brendan couldn’t qualify, then Ryan is DOA, sorry bout it.

Matthew
Guest
Matthew

The songs in recent years from Ireland have been fantastic. The problem is the staging.

2014: Oh god. Way too much going on.
There are dancers, violinists, Casey’s wearing a half sewn dress… Ugh.
2015: Are you kidding me. Just a bunch of trees.
2016: Those stupid men in black cover the sunlight.
2017: The staging’s just so meme worthy.

Marcelo
Guest
Marcelo

The only songs that had a chance of qualifying were 2014 and 2015. In 2016 it seems like Ireland stopped trying. I believe getting Nicky Byrne on Eurovision was probably Louie Walsh’s wet dream. XD

SW
Guest
SW

netherlands nq 2004-2012 (8 years)
ireland nq 2014-2017 (4 years).
if they do follow the same path as the netherlands, ireland will become succesfull again in 2022! JK

Mony
Guest
Mony

The thing is…ballads used to work for Ireland, but in the 80’s and early 90’s. For a good result nowdays you have to send a great ballad. If not, send a pop song or a dance act, but make it memorable. Why were Jedward memorable, not necessary good? Because they were controversial, and these kind of acts do well in Eurovision…

Kixx
Guest
Kixx

They should send Johnny Rotten with his ex-post Sex Pistols group. It would be the biggest moment in Eurovision history, everyone in the world would be interesting in his performance and he would have many votes aka big legend. It was so easy to qualify for them, they could be the most memorable act, but they decide to be forgotabble again. Their mistake

Joe
Guest
Joe

Ok, so here’s why I think Ireland’s ballads have done so well: they pack a punch. Yeah, there are exceptions (Dana won cuz it was a bad year and people didn’t know how awesome Julio Iglesias was), but sometimes the punch comes in the lyrics (What’s Another Year is a real heartbreaker), or the live vocal (The Voice, Why Me, In Your Eyes), some off-kilter feature (the sparseness of Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids in a year of huge power ballads), or a huge moment (the violin solo in The Voice, the key changes in Hold Me Now and In Your… Read more »

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

Dana didn’t just win because it was a bad year.

All Kinds Of Everything was a UK. No.1, so it can stand on its own strength too.

James
Guest
James

And apparently a worldwide radio hit, just right up there in the ranks of “Waterloo”, “Volare”, “Eres tu” and “Non ho l’eta”.

Jonas
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Jonas

Okay, so he says he has to work with what he’s given – the submissions he receives are below par – but he says this like he has no sway in how the national contest is perceived or organized. Run a proper national final, you may get some better entries – and actually promote it widely – you have a whole television station to advertise on. At the moment, who even knows when the submission period is open? If even then you still can’t get a good entry, buy one. Blow your whole budget on commissioning a decent track, spend… Read more »

Purple Mask
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Purple Mask

About the orchestras: I wondered about that as well. I can only assume that the budget wasn’t there to hire one of them.

Michèle
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Michèle

I wonder what his background is as he really seems very out of touch with what’s needed in Eurovision today. As an Irish Eurovision fan, I was very disappointed with the choice of Nicky Byrne in 2016 and also with ‘Dying to Try’ last year. My heart sank when I heard the key change – I knew the song was doomed at that point! I think this year’s song, although a vast improvement, is still a young man singing a kind of ballad. I am also curious as to why we haven’t actually seen Ryan singing the song yet. If… Read more »

Darren
Guest
Darren

Ryan is touring in the USA at the minute. I’m sure he’ll do a few performances in Ireland in the coming weeks and he’s doing the London and Amsterdam preview shows. Personally, id rather he skipped the London and Amsterdam shows and went to the Riga and Tel Aviv ones instead…seeing as Latvia and Israel are in our semi final and could be good to get some votes from there, as UK votes for us anyway and Netherlands are in a different semi. But alas…this Ireland.
I think we are doomed to fail this year regardless any promotion.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Latvia is in semi 2.

Darren
Guest
Darren

My mistake. Carry on.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Really, Ireland has two countries with a strong track record of voting for them in their semi: the UK and Lithuania. I’m hoping for a better result this year, but they’d have been better off in semi 2.

Darren
Guest
Darren

I honestly don’t think we have a chance to qualify this year. There is way better songs in the semi.

But of course I will be jumping for joy if we’ve do qualify. Here’s hoping UK, Lithuania etc are generous. I’m expecting a 12th place finish

Joe
Guest
Joe

You probably won’t be last. Too good for that.

Darren
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Darren

Thank you for your optimism Joe! It’s good to see some support 😀

Joe
Guest
Joe

No prob! While I, like you, am not entirely sure of Ryan’s chances, I still think it’s many times better than most of the recent Irish entries, so I can see it coming close to qualifying if not actually qualifying (like Molly, who actually should’ve gone to the final). In any case, there’s more to be proud of here than with either Nicky or Brendan.

Darren
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Darren

Agreed completely 😀 Best of luck to your country too

Darren
Guest
Darren

To everyone saying that Ireland should stop sending ballads, we have been underrated when he sent other genres.
Ireland should have qualified in 2009, Black Daisy where brilliant and so very different yet they didn’t qualify in 2009, instead some complete garbage qualified instead. We should have done better in 2013 than we did, okay 2015 was a ballad but it was beautiful and we should have qualified then too.
Irelands poor results/non-qualifications are really only justified for 2008, 2014, 2016 and 2017.

Pasadena
Guest
Pasadena

I don’t think it’s the ballads per se that’s the problem, it’s just that they have hardly evolved. I’m sure if they sent something like Hozier’s Take me to church, Ireland would be back at the top. I do agree that Molly Sterling’s entry was a good one.

Darren
Guest
Darren

Surprisingly enough, Austria sounds like Hozier this year. Cezar will qualify but though I am sure.
If it’s really proving difficult to source names and acts that’s willing to do it, I think Black Daisy should give it another shot. Worked for Poli Genova. Black Daisy and another vocalist.

Pasadena
Guest
Pasadena

You’re right, I didn’t think about that before, there are elements of Nobody but you that remind of Hozier. Austria deserves to qualify but it will all depend on staging I guess.

Michèle
Guest
Michèle

Loved Molly Sterling’s song. RTÉ put no effort into promoting it beforehand and the staging was poor – it was like she was hiding behind the piano. It really is the one that should have qualified over the past few years. I find it strange that the HOD saw no value in participating in the pre-Eurovision concerts up to last year – speaks volumes!

Darren
Guest
Darren

Yeah, because Molly was so young and relatively inexperienced, I think she should have done the preview shows and got some promotion. Staging wise, I would have had a smaller piano, perhaps a white one, covered in pink roses (Lady Gaga style) and just Molly sitting at it. No 6 piece band, just her and a small but memorable piano. We would have qualified.

Colin
Guest
Colin

The staging would be better if done like you said, but even so, you should have qualified. Molly was amazing and definitely was in my top 10, even in a strong year.

James
Guest
James

To be fair, other artists who didn’t necessarily took part in preview parties have done well in the competition, Loreen being a prime example.

IMO, preview parties would only expose your song to small audiences. When I think of ESC entries doing “promotional tours”, I imagine have them go to different countries, booking guests spots in radio shows and televised talk shows and going into mall shows to get people from those countries excited about your song that they wanna vote for it.

Colin
Guest
Colin

Bulgaria got to be second with a ballad in 2017. UK got to be 15th, even if people are really not that keen on voting them. So, it’s not a ballad issue, it’s a boring or dated ballad issue. Something I noticed in 2017 voting and suspect will happen in 2018 (but, who knows) is that besides the quality, the originality is very much appreciated. A good, but seen-before song is less likely to qualify compared to something unique in genre. I mean, Georgia and Malta definitely didn’t have bad songs, but people were tired of a tried-out formula, I… Read more »

Pasadena
Guest
Pasadena

They should abandon the typical Irish ballad. It’s kind of sounded the same for the past 30 years. Both Lipstick and Only love survives were two personal favourites of mine. More of that please.

Polegend Godgarina
Guest
Polegend Godgarina

The last time they did well with a ballad was in 2006… so he needs a reality check.

Ari
Guest
Ari

And that one should not have qualified, either. Lame dude with an even lamer song. I kinda liked the flower power mommy of 2007, though. They song was something unique, at least.

Darren
Guest
Darren

Dervish where horrible live. The song wasn’t good in the studio version, but live was awful. I think she was nervous though.
If Ireland wasn’t already qualified in 2007, we wouldn’t have made the final.
2009 was when we really deserved to qualify and didn’t.

Michèle
Guest
Michèle

I really think the singer in Dervish has a terrible voice – speaking as a folk music fan.

Colin
Guest
Colin

Ireland 2007 was one of the biggest disproportions on any song studio vs live. When I heard the album, I have put the song in my top 15. After seeing live, it was in the bottom 10. That hardly ever happens, but that live was so amateurish and dreadful. She seemed like she was someone’s auntie in a local wedding stepping up to karaoke when pushed by someone else and she had to improvise.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Such a good instrumental with a great chorus…but damn it all, the voice sank it. Not even the UK voted for it.

stommie
Guest
stommie

“I looked at what other countries were doing. And a lot of other countries who were like us not enjoying great results decided to opt for internal selections.”

It is obvious that he means Belgium and the Netherlands. The thing is that both Belgium and the Netherlands have learnt from past mistakes. The outcome of the Irish selection process however is exactly the same as it was before.
When Ireland sends an artist like in 2011 and 2012, Ireland doesn’t have a problem qualifying at all.

Joe
Guest
Joe

For all the talk about how Ireland isn’t known for pop songs, their best recent result came from a silly pop song. If it’s the right balance of ridiculous and catchy (unlike Dustin) it could work.
I think they should go Celtic again, provided they have the right performer. Get another Eimear, not another Dervish.

Miguel
Guest
Miguel

“the country does have a very good reputation for ballads”
yeah… back in the 90’s… This is 2018.

If Ireland wants to go back to the final and have respectable results they need to revamp themselves. Bring something contemporary, original and most importantly: memorable.

Darren
Guest
Darren

Nothing against the guy, he seems like a decent fella, and of course nobody wants to lose their job, but it’s no coincidence that Ireland started to go downhill in 2013, the year he took charge. In any other country, he would have been replaced by now, but we all know RTE is the paradise of nepotism in Ireland. I think under the current format, I don’t think he’ll get a winner, he’ll be lucky to even get a qualification. It’s sad because a few years ago we were genuinely starting to make strides with Jedward, I honestly thought there… Read more »

Sabrina
Guest
Sabrina

I won’t bully Kealy, but if it hasn’t been working for a while, why doesn’t give a chance to other person to conduct this business? Even when things are going well a turnover can be positive to keep ideas fresh.

Tomás davitt
Guest
Tomás davitt

If he won he’d hang up his hat? Why don’t you try getting us a remotely decent song first. Then think about actually qualifying us for the final. Then you can start talking about outlandish impossibilities such as leading us to victory again.

This guy is clearly useless and should have been sacked ages ago

Briekimchi
Guest
Briekimchi

An absolute disgrace.
Where else can you be such a miserable failure at your job and suffer no repercussions? Where is the accountability? The man has no shame.

James
Guest
James

Great to see a guy taking in al the, abusive and hateful comments he’s receiving online in stride.

But hopefully he does manage to get that one song that could reverse Ireland’s fortunes as it did with other countries that have opted with internal selections in recent editions.

For the meantime, he gotta work with what’s on his table.

Hellogoodbye
Guest
Hellogoodbye

Like everyone else in RTE this useless idiot is probably way overpaid .. will stay in role for as long as possible .. typical .. you should have confronted him Padraig for his crap job

Michèle
Guest
Michèle

I do agree he got away very lightly – no element of accountability!

Hellogoodbye
Guest
Hellogoodbye

As and Irish person I actually think Irelands past record in Eurovision counts for nothing tbh .. Most wins maybe but Ireland, UK and Malta had a massive benefit for the years of the language rule .. Being the only 3 that could sing in English .. Ireland did send good songs yes but the language pushed the wins. Never were truly the kings of Eurovision tbh and need to get over it .. This head of delegation just like the rest of RTE should be ashamed of the garbage sent in recent years bar maybe Molly and Jedward in… Read more »

Ari
Guest
Ari

Totally agree. These “seven victories” fall into the category “useless Eurovision trivia”. The huge language advantage aside, you’re only as good as your current effort.

Jonas
Guest
Jonas

I disagree.

It may have been an advantage, but not the sole reason for the victories. Each of Ireland’s seven winners are quality entries deserving of victory. It’s not as if they won with trash. In the years that the language rule was in place, most of the winners were still in a language other than English.

Even if I were to accept your argument, Ireland still earned respect by hosting the contest so well, on three successive occasions, each totally different to the last. That’s no mean feat in itself.

Ari
Guest
Ari

They USED TO HAVE a great track record with ballads. Past tense. Their recent track record with ballads is more than dire. In any case, it so isn’t about the song being a ballad or not. It’s about whether it is good and memorable enough to withstand the competition in a positive way.

AM2PM
Guest
AM2PM

Michael, please don’t confuse criticism with abuse. Your results speak for themselves. You’ve done an absolutely atrocious job. If you were a football manager you’d be gone long ago. Please do the honourable thing and quit this year if the song doesn’t qualify.

Pandaman
Guest
Pandaman

So, sir, you’re saying that it’s better to send a crappy song written by a person with some record track than a brilliant song of a newcomer?
Okaaaaaay…

Ron
Guest
Ron

His point about newcomers though is that they are usually complete amateurs who have never written a song in their lives. These are not proper amateurs who have actually written a lot of songs and who are just waiting to be discovered.

The writers of Together would be the type of newcomer you are in favour of (both of them are in their twenties).

francesca
Guest
francesca

“If I won it, I would hang up my hat.”

I guess, he’ll stick around for a very long while…..