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My passion for Irish soccer and tabloids continues three decades later

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Former Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.
Former Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni.

Many years ago the sports editor of a very well respected broadsheet newspaper offered some words of advice at the wash basin in the toilet of a Dublin pub – move to a bigger paper, and one with bigger words.

At the time I was the soccer correspondent for the Irish Daily Star and a bit of a young pup in an industry that had been populated by, shall we say, more elderly men.

The newspaper industry in Ireland was only waking up to change and there I was, working on a tabloid and proud of it. We used short words where this man’s paper used long words that sometimes necessitated the use of a dictionary or a thesaurus – or both.

His point -- after he had washed his hands I might add -- was that broadsheets were where it was at for those with serious ideas about themselves as sports writers. And he probably had a point on a night when we enjoyed more than one pint of a different nature.

Thankfully I have never had serious ideas about myself.  I am still getting paid to write, talk and survey sport, and if you’d told me that would still be possible 30 odd years ago when I was starting off in the Meath Chronicle – a broadsheet by the way – I’d have happily shaken hands on the deal there and then.

The tabloid world has suited me just fine since those early days and, one famous row aside, there’s nothing in my time on newspapers since that causes me anxiety or sleepless nights.

I like the fact that I work and have worked for newspapers that talk to the ordinary man and woman on the street. I like the fact that my current home, the Irish Sun, treats soccer and hurling and Gaelic football with the same reverence if offers to affairs of the state or the heart.

Soccer is a big thing in my life and a big thing on the paper where I now work. To borrow one of our marketing catchphrases – we love it.

The fact that we are probably about to outsell the broadsheet whose editor offered those words of advice all those years ago is neither here nor there. His paper is a rugby paper and a GAA paper before it is ever considered a soccer paper by the rank and file of the Green Army, and good luck to it.

We live in a different world. Soccer means something to the Irish Sun reader and, I am glad to report, to every single man and woman who works with us.

That’s why the past week has been exhilarating, exciting, busy – and sad.

There are times in this job when the stories just present themselves.  Nine times out of 10 in the tabloid world those stories center on soccer and as often as not in our particular parish, they concentrate on the Irish national team.

My regular reader knows that the Ireland team is a subject very close to my heart. As long as I’ve wanted to be a journalist I’ve been an Ireland fan. As long as I’ve been alive – and it’s a long time now I’ll admit – soccer has been my main game.

Even now, as golf runs it close, my passions are aroused whenever that green jersey appears on the pitch and “Amhran na bhFiann” fills the air, even when it’s as awful as the Nadia Forde version at Lansdowne Road last Friday night.

I care about the Ireland team. I am passionate about Irish football. I love it as the earlier saying goes.

I am also realistic about it. And I call it as it is.

That’s why events of the last week have been difficult to say the least for those of us who care about Irish football and work in the media as Team Ireland implodes and the inevitable parting of the ways with Giovanni Trapattoni looms on the horizon.

Ireland were brutal against Sweden at the Aviva Stadium last Friday night. They lost 2-1 and deserved to lose. They haven’t beaten any qualifier rival other than Armenia in World Cup or European Championship games under Trapattoni.

We haven’t beaten a serious team away from home in a competitive game since we beat Scotland 1-0 at Hampden Park in 1987 – when I stood on the terrace as a fee paying fan.

We are bereft of attacking ideas, stuck in an Italian defensive mold and going nowhere fast, never mind Brazil for the World Cup finals next summer.

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