Papering Over the Craic

It’s been a rough week for Irish football but a worse one for the people who report on it. The sports hacks as a collective have taken a PR battering and they’ve reverted to their defensive mode by blaming the FAI for the fiasco. Meanwhile, the public remains in the dark.

The governing body’s ten-man board met last Wednesday for almost three hours. At the end of that process, the decision was made to stick with Giovanni Trapattoni as Irish manager, provoking an outcry amongst the media and some fans alike. The origin of all this drama was the mysterious ‘senior FAI source,’ a type of cigarette-smoking man, quoted in the Irish Independent who said Trap would be out of a job no matter what happened in the Faroe Islands. When that didn’t happen, the sports press’ credibility had taken a hit and that has many of our scribes up in arms.

Accusations of gamesmanship have now been levelled at the FAI because the reading public have questioned the integrity of these stories.

In tandem with this, the media have been accused by many readers of orchestrating a witch-hunt against the manager, something journalists strenuously dismiss on various social media. Judging by the reaction of many of them after Wednesday night’s news, however, you’d be hard pressed to believe they could be objective covering the Irish team in the coming months.

The RTE panel was compulsive viewing last Tuesday night. Liam Brady made an impassioned defence of Trapattoni and cited the disrespectful tone taken by some reporters quoting the use of the word ‘shameless’ by the Irish Independent.

The writer in question hit back at Brady on Twitter but showed a bit more humility when faced with a barrage of criticism (and no little abuse) from online posters.

The media have also questioned the FAI’s stance that it was inappropriate for them to comment between the Germany and Faroe games. They argue the association could have come out and backed the manager but that ignores the simple reality that not all of the board supported retaining Trapattoni, necessitating convening a meeting.

RTE and TV3 both issued apologies last  week for claiming the senior source leaking these stories was John Delaney. Some journos are up in arms at the accusation by Joe and Josephine Public that the story was made up to continue the crusade against Trapattoni.

Surely our writers must acknowledge how they are perceived by the Irish reading audience?

We consume a daily diet of British news content and TV programmes. Our tabloids are Irish versions of the same papers. Some of our broadsheets are accused with every passing day of becoming more trashy, particularly Sunday versions. An Irish reader sees ‘unnamed source’, and takes it with a pinch of salt. They’ve learned to ask questions of our media providers because they are suspicious. Whether journalists have an agenda or not is somewhat irrelevant. In the minds of the reading public, many do. It’s up to reporters to convince us otherwise.

On the YBIG Football Show this week, Reuters’ Philip O’Connor said we must distinguish between the British and Irish press. The problem is, for more and more Irish readers, those lines are getting blurred.

The sports hacks are beating John Delaney for his failure to portray anger at the leaking of sensitive information. It’s true that in years gone by, this was how the FAI worked as vested interests vied for control of Irish football. But judging by some writers, the impression is given that they don’t actually know who the source is.

Ireland’s football journalists travel to games together and socialise together. Anyone who follows them on Twitter knows they interact and circle the wagons when they come in for criticism. That’s why it was so surprising too see some of them revel in Tony O’Donoghue’s discomfort this week for claiming Delaney was the leak. ‘Egg on his face’ was one term used.

No one expects the source to be named but there are very few sports writers who hint to knowing who it is. If they did, they could simply quote him again, or allude to him. Papers have not done that.

Other accusations levelled at the FAI board last week were that they were swayed by the players lobbying for the retention of the manager. In the Irish Examiner John Delaney forcefully dismissed this, stressing the players did not approach the board in any form. He also said the financial aspect of sacking Trapattoni was not an issue. The decision would be made and the financial consequences considered afterwards.

It’s been a messy week for Irish football. The FAI have not come out well but not just because of some cloak and dagger story of meddling in the press. They failed to remove the manager which has provoked the ire of many disillusioned fans and their silence was deafening in the aftermath of the humiliating defeat by Germany. They allowed the media reaction to erupt without any attempt to rein it in.

The team manager Trapattoni will continue to feel the pressure if his players under perform. He has his own problems to worry about.

Our press too have taken a battering to their credibility and taking a swipe at the FAI won’t really disguise that fact. If they think it does, they insult the intelligence of the people they’re supposed to be writing for, the reading public.

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