Good on Paper: Standing Up for Stephen Ireland

HE CAN’T help himself. He is a wind-up merchant and after his next outburst we too may clamour for the head of Stephen Ireland. But there is something ugly about football journalists lining up to take a swipe at a troubled young Irish man who has let himself down by shooting his mouth off.

Stephen Ireland is not a bright man but he’s not the first footballer to make an idiot of himself when given the oxygen of celebrity.

His obvious talent saw him join Manchester City at the age of 18 but he gave a preview of the petulant arrogance that would dominate his dealings with the Republic of Ireland when falling out with Brian Kerr at under-age level. The manager chose not to play the Cobh man in his hometown when his family was in attendance (Trapattoni and Coleman, anyone?) His failure to be selected for the following game prompted Ireland to request a return to Manchester. Kerr took this as insubordination and the two split in a blaze of acrimony. Ireland’s days in a green jersey were finshed until the arrival of Steve Staunton in the senior hot-seat.

The ‘Granny-gate’ saga has painted Ireland’s thought process as bizarre and immature. Unable to simply explain personal issues, the scorer of the Republic’s first ever goal at Croke Park resorted to spinning fantasy tales. Lying about the death of his grandmother(s), forced to change his story, and eventually claiming his girlfriend had a miscarriage. What was going on in his head?

Ireland never played for his country again. The rumours that slagging by members of the senior squad were reasons for his self-imposed exile are hard to reconcile with the cocky arrogant footballer who burst into the Manchester City first team.

Why would a man so sensitive to ridicule by Irish players drop his shorts to expose Superman underpants in the middle of a Premier League game?

Stephen Ireland is a walking contradiction.

He has changed his tune so many times regarding an international comeback and the media has returned to the issue at every opportunity.

When he wrote on Twitter last November that he should give Trapattoni a call, the Irish football hacks fell over themselves to report it. One wonders if Ireland knew this and simply wished to get his name in the limelight. Pink rims on a jeep don’t point to a man who shuns attention.

He has only written on Twitter on two more occasions since. On March 4th he said he was fit and raring to face Everton. The same day, when the So Foot in Mouth story erupted, he wrote once more; “Don’t believe everything you read”.

Ireland has over 17,000 followers on Twitter. What personalities on the blogging network are worthy of the player’s own attention? Zero.

The press are lining up to vilify Stephen Ireland this week. He will receive little sympathy. His outbursts regarding playing for Ireland even prior to last week are the utterances of a moron. His criticisms of Giovanni Trapattoni are bizarre and disrespectful in the extreme.

One wonders what his family think of all this. During the height of the ‘Will he, won’t he?’ talk of a return to the Irish set-up, his father was quoted as saying his son wanted to play for his country and would do so again.

Yet at every turn, Ireland has contradicted his father’s assertion. It can’t be a pleasant for his those closest to him.

This is a small country and when it come to supporters of the national team, Ireland, the player, is guilty of high treason.

Cobh is an even smaller place. There is no avoiding this story down there.

Look, let’s get real here. Ireland wouldn’t be a Corkman if he wasn’t proud to proclaim himself one. He has already stated he has Cork tattooed on his body (though he didn’t say where.)

He was an idiot to say what he did. Yet, especially in the Ireland of today, we are just as quick to run the nation down.

Scores of Irish people are leaving this country, forced to emigrate. Sitting in bars in London, Toronto, or Sydney, they will curse their homeland to the high heavens, but they will still be intensely proud to be Irish.

It’s harder to take this criticism from a 24-year-old who earns thousands of pounds a week and is not shy to flaunt the fact that he is minted.

Yet papers such as the Irish Independent over-step the mark, drawing an obvious comparison to Roy Keane and referring to Ireland as ‘Egoman.’ ‘Good riddance’ screams the headline.

“But the cases differ in one clear respect; while Keane’s greatness is acknowledged for all time, Egoman’s endurance has yet to be proven over a sustained length of time.”

So, it is even more acceptable to ridicule Ireland, because he has failed to live up to the hype? The great players can be spared this type of slander, it seems. The hypocrisy is glaring.

Ireland has dug himself a massive hole, and perhaps most telling of all, in Cork they are lining up to bury him in it. The player, whose career at Newcastle has been stalled by injury, claimed last week that he was misquoted, but on Newstalk he did not try to set the record straight. He didn’t deny the sentiment of those reported quotes.

Stephen Ireland is being pilloried right now. Yet, no one deserves to be stoned from above by journalists who have no right to occupy the high-moral ground.

Judging by his motor-mouth statements and his inability to even articulate his desire to retract them, the irony will be lost on him but, to borrow Stephen Ireland’s own words; he is reaping what he has sown.

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