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How the Internet has changed sports journalism – we know our fate in an instant

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Kevin Doyle.
Kevin Doyle.

There is a beauty about the Internet that is a scourge for the print media, a beauty that occupies the minds of sports editors on nights such as Tuesday – or it should.

Years ago, Ireland soccer fans relied on the written word and the printed word for news of their heroes in far flung corners of the world like Moscow and Malta.

Great men like Con Houlihan and Peter Byrne and Charlie Stuart travelled with notebooks -- although not always in Con’s case -- in the name of Irish soccer.

From Dublin to Donegal, fans could listen to Philip Greene of RTE on the radio commentate from Valetta, or read about the game in the papers the next morning.

That was the way of the world when Thomas and Giles and even Jack Charlton were the Irish managers.

I can remember sitting on the school bus coming home from Navan and listen to Greene praise Ireland to the hilt as they stumbled to a late 1-0 win over Malta many, many years ago.

Legend has it that the traffic stopped in O’Connell Street when the wireless relayed news of the Frank Stapleton back-heel that eventually broke Maltese hearts.

That’s how we kept in touch with our soccer heroes in those days. Live games on television were a rarity, the radio was our best friend and the newspaper our bible.

Alas, no more. Just hours from now, as I write on Tuesday morning, Ireland go into World Cup battle with Austria in Dublin for the first time since the famous Harry Ramsden challenge of 1995.

Big Jack was a shareholder in the Irish franchise of the Harry Ramsden fish and chip shop chain in those days and decided, in his infinite wisdom, to take the team to said chipper en route from their training camp in Limerick to the match in Dublin.

The journey was undertaken less than 24 hours before the game, and the fish and chip dinner was little more than a publicity stunt if truth be told.

Some of the players decided to undertake Harry’s Challenge, whereby anyone who successfully consumed a massive portion of fish and chips got a free dinner as their reward.

The fact the dinner was already free seemed to bypass them, and a certain Roy Keane has always attributed the subsequent 3-1 defeat to Austria to the after-effects of Harry’s Challenge.

Of course, the Harry Ramsden story got an airing again this week. The current Dublin outlet – Jack’s venue is now a DIY store – has even offered the Irish team another free dinner via the Irish Sun, but only after the game and only if they beat Austria this time!

All of which brings us back to the point we started at. By the time you get to read this on the other side of the Atlantic, the result of the Ireland-Austria game will be known.

If you’re a fan you will have been able to watch it in a bar or followed it live on the Internet, via satellite feed or on one of the many websites that provide minute by minute text commentaries from such games.

Anyone with even the slightest interest in the Ireland soccer team will know who won, who played well and who scored before the printing press in America has even warmed up for the latest edition of the Irish Voice.

So there’s no point in me speculating about Giovanni Trapattoni’s tactics for the game, or pondering his bizarre decision to start with Conor Sammon, a 26-year-old who plays with Derby County and is best described as a journeyman, ahead of Kevin Doyle.

The decision to leave Doyle out of the initial squad for the games against Sweden last Friday and Austria on Tuesday is already well documented on these pages and elsewhere.

But the fact that Kevin earned a reprieve courtesy of the injury to Robbie Keane that forced his withdrawal from the second World Cup qualifier should have been seen as a gift horse by Trapattoni.

I can’t say right now if the Sammon experiment worked thanks to print deadlines that don’t affect our online colleagues at Irish Central.

But I can tell you the story of a man who works on the production side of another newspaper in Ireland, and dedicates his life to following and supporting the Irish football team.

The other day, said fan issued a call to arms on the website www.ybig.ie that is the Internet home to the best supporters in the world.

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