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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.

Essentially our man asked those currently criticizing Trapattoni why they couldn’t recognize that the Italian had done everything they had asked of him for last Friday night’s commendable scoreless draw in Sweden.
He had made wholesale changes – only two of the Euro 2012 team started in Stockholm – and he had secured a positive result in a fixture many, me included, expected Ireland to lose heavily.

Youngsters -- if you count Seamus Coleman as young at 24 -- now populate the Irish team, and Trap even admitted the error of his ways with regards to James McCarthy by leaving him in the team to face Austria.
Our man has a point. Trap did make wholesale changes for Sweden and Austria, but they were forced upon him by injuries. He almost stumbled upon the formula that wore Sweden down, and I can’t tell you right now if it worked against Austria.

What I will say is that it is right that he took Keane off in Stockholm, right that Shane Long is now a first choice striker for his country and right that James McClean is rewarded for a decent performance on Friday by staying in the side for Tuesday.

There are still several things wrong in the Trapattoni school of thinking, however. Leaving Doyle out of the squad was so, so wrong. One fan on www.ybig.ie even suggested it was enough to warrant Trap’s dismissal, and I’d almost agree with him.

And his continued refusal to start Wes Hoolahan in a game – and ignore the similar style player Andy Reid – defies logic.

I do hope I am wrong. As the Trap supporter on the web side, this is our national team and I do want them to win matches. I want to see them in Rio for the World Cup finals in the summer of 2014.

But the draw in Sweden, good as it was, still isn’t enough to convince me that he is the right man for the job anymore.

And by the time you read this, the Austrian result may well have changed my view! C’est la vie.

Sideline Views
SOCCER: Irishman Eamon Dolan won’t be the new manager at Reading despite his caretaker role since Brian McDermott was sacked. The Royals appointed Nigel Adkins as manager on Monday night, the same man who was sacked by relegation rivals Southampton at the start of the year. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Adkins kept Reading up at Southampton’s expense!

HURLING: The best story of the weekend concerned the Michael Rice comeback for Kilkenny in Clare, his first competitive game since picking up an horrific hand injury in the All-Ireland semifinal win over Tipperary last August. Boss Brian Cody described Rice’s comeback as “brilliant,” and he was right.

SOCCER: Spare a thought for the Russian boss Fabio Capello, who had to give up his hotel room in Belfast on Friday night when his team’s World Cup qualifier at Windsor Park fell victim to the snow. Apparently a bride needed the bridal suite!

GAA: Alas the great Cork footballer Colm O’Neill has suffered a third cruciate knee ligament, but it is in the other leg this time and he is adamant that he will be back better than ever next season. We wish him well.

GAA: Thanks to a crucial vote at Congress last weekend, the GAA will have red cards, yellow cards and black cards in all games from January of next year. So you wouldn’t want to be a colour blind referee!

HERO OF THE WEEK
DAVID Forde is the proof that good things come to those who wait. Now 33, he became the oldest Irish player to make a competitive debut in the scoreless draw with Sweden on Friday night and his great, late save ensured the game remained scoreless. The smile on Forde’s face at the end of the match told its own story.

IDIOT OF THE WEEK  
THE Aussie Mark Webber is moaning that world champion Sebastian Vettel ignored team orders from his Red Bull bosses and overtook him to win the Malaysian Grand Prix on Sunday. Is Webber stupid? Does he not realize that ruthlessness is one of the qualities that made Webber world champion in the first place?

*Cathal Dervan is sports editor of the Irish Sun newspaper in Dublin

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