Sky News colleagues pay tribute to 'outstanding role model and mentor' - producer Mark O'Leary

Sky News colleagues have paid tribute to senior sports producer Mark O’Leary who died of cancer just before Christmas aged 51.

"Marko"  was said to have been the “beating heart” of the sports coverage at Sky News since his arrival from Australia more than 20 years ago.

He studied journalism at Mitchell College, Bathurst, in New South Wales - now part of the Charles Sturt University. After graduation with honours he worked in the sports departments of both Channel 7 and Channel 9 in Sydney before deciding to make the leap to the UK.

Marko arrived at Sky News shortly after the channel's launch in 1989 and soon became a permanent feature of the sports desk. Under editor, Andy Cairns, he helped forge the channel's sporting identity. He appeared  on camera in the early days when it was a simple ‘rip and read’ service before going on to help launch the flagship Sportsline programme - which still airs today.

In 2000 his knowledge of his former home city was called upon to co-ordinate Sky News' coverage of the Sydney Olympics with Mark Saggers.

The energy and enthusiasm he injected into his work not only lifted the output on screen, it also helped nurture several generations of would-be reporters and producers.

Sky News sports edtor Nick Powell said : “Marko wasn’t just our best, calmest, and most experienced output producer,  he was also an outstanding mentor and role model.

“Newcomers have consistently spoken of our sports desk as being the most welcoming and helpful they have ever experienced.

“For that, Marko, always generous, patient and understanding, takes the most credit. That is his greatest legacy.”

Despite the pressure cooker atmosphere of 24-hour news Marko always maintained a sunny outlook and his infectious sense of humour – and dress sense – often raised a smile.

Richard Johnson, sports news editor at Sky News, said: “My enduring image of Marko was at a sports desk Christmas party at Terry Venables' Scribes West Club. Marko had a love of loud shirts – it was his trademark -  but this time he had gone all-out for Christmas. It was multi-coloured with a motif of puppies or dogs on it. At some stage just after we were ushered through to the dining room, Venables came in to say hello. He was clearly a man performing his duty as host, distracted, and keen to get it out of the way with the minimum fuss. That was until he clapped eyes on Marko’s shirt.

“Christ! That is a shirt and a half,” he said “I hope they paid up because I’m guessing you are wearing it for a bet?” Marko explained, with pride, that no money had exchanged hands.” 

As a sports fan - as in his life - he was a part-time anglophile. An avid Chelsea supporter and a fan of Surrey County Cricket Club, but when it came to the Ashes he was true to his Aussie roots.

He was a keen musician and a talented drummer who took time out in the 90's to pursue the rock'n'roll life with his band "The Days". He later become the engine room of the Sky News Band, where his professionalism and sense of fun was also a driving force.

In his later years he relished his role as a devoted father and he had the enviable ability to balance his work and family life seamlessly.

Mark is survived by daughter Harriet, son Campbell and widow Sam.

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