Monday November 8
An international week with the Republic of Ireland always starts at Newcastle airport, followed by the joys of a certain low budget airline. Thankfully I always manage to fall asleep on planes as soon as they start to taxi, so I have no idea what all the fuss is about. Myself and my colleague Damian Spellman from the Press Association, another North East football hack, arrive in wind-swept Dublin after midday and head straight to the White Sands Hotel, our regular base for these trips, which is a pleasant mile walk along the coast to the training ground.
First up for the week is a meeting with Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni in Malahide United’s clubhouse. He is in feisty mood at the start of a long week, and he keeps repeating the mantra that Ireland are not favourites. Like us, the Estonia coach will not believe a word of it, but his assistant Marco Tardelli will repeat it also later in the week. After a short break, we head to the Grand Hotel in Malahide for a mixed zone with members of the Ireland squad. Jon Walters appears first for the daily newspapers and his interview will appear in tomorrow’s papers. The words of Stephen Kelly, Stephen Ward and Paul McShane will be held for editions over the next few days.
Tuesday November 9
I missed breakfast this morning but then we had a late start.
It was midday before we made our way back to the training ground and a meeting with Shay Given. Only there is a problem, the Aston Villa is absent from training with a neck strain and has stayed at the team hotel. When the players head straight to the bus after training, it’s clear we don’t have a player to interview. Assistant Marco Tardelli confirms Given’s injury. Turns out he has rested along With Richard Dunne, Keith Fahey and Keith Andrews. None serious, but we have our news story, especially for the back pages of the Irish editions.
Shay can’t provide us with an interview but he gives us a newsline. His absence from the media rota means a shifting in the running order from the mixed zone. So Fulham’s Stephen Kelly, who will start in place of the injured John O’Shea, moves from Wednesday to Tuesday and will be run alongside the Paul McShane interview.
My Irish Daily Mail colleague Philip Quinn sat in on the Ward interview, I sat in on Kelly and McShane, so I have a busy afternoon in my makeshift office with Mr Spellman above the White Sands reception area. With news coming from Sunderland on Connor Wickham’s injury, we both spend several hours tapping away furiously before retiring to the hotel bar for a well-earned pint of the black stuff. Or two.
Wednesday November 10
I missed breakfast today but we had a shot-gun start and a meeting with Mr Given in the clubhouse.
With wind and rain battering us, it was decided, quite rightly, to head indoors for the interviews, which were also carried by TV and radio. After training, Marco was around too with better news of the injured four, who all trained. The final decision Trapattoni must make is whether to start with Walters or Cox upfront as partner for Robbie Keane who is fit again.
The Irish Daily Mail is carrying five pages on the play-offs tomorrow, plus a short back page story, and between us Quinner and I deliver the lot, on top of an interview with Middlesbrough’s Tarmo Kink. So another busy afternoon in the White Sands bashing away at the keyboard. With Mr Spellman en route to Tallinn, I decided to go for a run down the coast road, which was bracing to say the least. Then just as I laid my head in the bath, news came through of Newcastle’s decision to change the name of St James’ Park…
Thursday November 11
I missed breakfast this morning because the kitchen was not even open when I left my hotel.
It was darker when I left this morning, than it was last night when I went to bed. I was very good and went to bed early last night but my alarm clock, which is a replica of the chimes of Big Ben, still had to belt out several `Bongs’ before I emerged from a deep slumber. Still, at least I will sleep on the plane. We are heading to Tallinn this morning, which is one of my favourite cities from 12 years of covering the Republic of Ireland, but not with the team who flew out yesterday. A couple of hours after our arrival we will head to the A Le Coq Stadium for a press conference with Robbie Keane and Giovanni Trapattoni. The veteran Italian has done a tremendous job with limited resources player-wise and is like the grandfather of the game, but boy can he be difficult understand on these occasions, with his mixture of Italian, English, Irish, German and Portuguese. Or Trappish as we call it.
Thankfully, for the English and Irish editions, today I will be mainly concentrating on Keane, who has been enjoying himself in the States with LA Galaxy. The Ireland captain will play, despite being virtually ruled out by Trap a month ago after he was forced to miss the final group win over Armenia. In the pre-match press conference, with his manager sat beside him, the former Spurs man is in great form. And the message is quite simple. Ireland have worked too hard, been hurt too many times, particularly in Paris, to throw this all away now. And Robbie is desperate to lead his country in Poland or Ukraine.
Friday November 12
I missed breakfast this morning because match day is always one of quiet contemplation and relaxation.
That, and a late finish in one of Tallinn’s trendier bars, suggests breakfast was never really going to happen in the first place. So after a pleasant snooze, a delightful lunch in a medieval hall in the centre of town (wild boar soup followed by a sea full of smoken fish) myself and some colleagues head to our hotel spa area. Never have I felt so cleansed and cleaned and refreshed. There were enough jacuzzis, saunas, massage showers and pools to float a navy, including a salt sauna, which involves smothering oneself in rock salt and sitting in searing heat. A definite first, but when in Tallinn…
Then finally to match time. And after covering Ireland for 12 years across the globe, I have become accustomed to tension, anxiety and nerves. And that’s just to get the wi-fi working. While the technology lets us all down in the alleged techno capital of Europe, the team and Il Trap do not. Although a little fortunate with one or two refereeing decisions, Ireland blow their opponents away 4-0 and by full-time they are within touching distances of next summer’s finals. It is party time.
Saturday November 13
I made breakfast this morning, although that was only because the breakfast bar had opened by the time myself and several of my Irish newspaper colleagues were heading to bed.
Yes it was that kind of night, although in our defence we left the A Le Coq Arena at one am local time, and the bars of Tallinn were only too pleased to take our custom.
But when the bongs went off on my alarm half an hour ago, it was not particularly pleasant. And the prospect of a three-hour flight to Dublin, a Trapattoni press conference within half an hour of our return, does not exactly set the pulse racing.
However, we will all be professional to the end, we will all be present for the great man’s observations on a very very good night. Just don’t expect him to get carried away.
Sunday November 13
I missed breakfast this morning because it was another late start at a wind-swept Malahide United training ground. No point spoiling a well-deserved lie-in.
I did contact home several times in the morning for running reports on Deerness Valley Under 15s’ game against South Tyneside Jets, and my lad Tom’s team came out 5-0 victors. Who needs their manager eh?
And there were junior games on the many pitches at Malahide too, but we were there to see Marco Tardelli who met us in the car park and was surrounded by a crowd of journalists hanging on his every word through the howling gale. Four hours later, we were back at the Grand Hotel to see Keith Andrews, Stephen Hunt and Simon Cox.
Understandably the mood in the camp is good and light-hearted, which is reflected in the interviews. And that’s just the journos – although one or two of my colleagues are looking rather tired.
Last night was the PFAI annual awards’ dinner. I was down to attend but when guest speaker Roy Keane pulled out, so did I. Some of my colleagues landed at six, went straight from the airport to the Grand to meet Mr Trapattoni for his press conference and then headed out, suited and booted, to the black tie event on the other side of Dublin. The last award was presented just before midnight, by which time some of our number were falling asleep at their table.
There is news of a possible friendly against England in Dublin next June, providing the two avoid each other in the Euro Finals draw on December 2.
Monday November 14
I didn’t make breakfast this morning. But only because I didn’t want to break the habit of the week.
I did grab a croissant from the shop next door after an early start because today is another busy one. It is the North East FWA annual awards dinner next Sunday and as one of the organisers there is work to do, even from here. Nothing major, just sponsors, top table, comedian, MC, auction and raffle, tickets, guests. There are, as Mr Trapattoni would say, small details to cover but they need to be done for the event to, hopefully, run smoothly.
At lunchtime there is a meeting with Richard Dunne. Ten years ago he was one of three unused outfield players in Japan and South Korea. In the summer he will be one of the first names in Trapattoni’s starting line-up. `I can’t stop smiling,’ he said in the Malahide clubhouse. He is one of the Ireland players who really understands what it means to be back at the European Championship finals and his words will make a nice piece tomorrow.
After a very pleasant lunch with my friend and colleague Paul Hyland from the Herald, we head back to the Grand for the latest instalment from Trap and Keane. He names the team – Hunt, Doyle and O’Shea come in for Kelly, Walters and McGeady – and he announces that Robbie Keane has turned down the chance to return to LA Galaxy so he can play (and no doubt celebrate) tomorrow night. The current captain’s decision is in contrast to that of his predecessor and namesake Roy who returned to Manchester United after the first leg win over Iran ten years ago, pulling out of the second leg in Tehran because `the job was done.’ Should make for some interesting copy from my Irish colleagues tomorrow.
Tuesday November 15
I didn’t make breakfast this morning as I didn’t want to spoil my early morning run – incredibly the fourth of this 10-day Euro 2012 adventure.
I am running a marathon for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust next year (venue still to be confirmed and to fit in with the Euro Finals once Ireland have sealed qualification) and the long, long road to fitness has started this week. The run down the coast and around the beaches into Malahide is one of my favourites, providing you can negotiate a route past the fellow joggers, speed walkers, dogs and prams.
After checking up on a couple of stories from the North East patch as usual, it is the traditional late lunch – chicken wings at the Elephant and Castle – followed by a gentle walk down to Lansdowne Road, or the Aviva Stadium as it is now known. The build-up of green-shirted punters in the many bars in the roads leading to the ground suggests the stadium really will be a sell-out tonight, although I’m sure they say that every month.
It should be a party atmosphere, it should be a straight-forward game and three different match reports for the English and Irish editions (plus back page and player ratings for Dublin). But this is Ireland . . . though no one shed any tears when Trap’s team only drew 1-1.