FWA Q&A: Cathal Dervan

Cathal Dervan, sports editor of the Irish Sun, on falling out with Roy Keane…tins of sardines in Albania…and why it’s good for football folk to talk…

Your first ever newspaper?
The Meath Chronicle in Market Square, Navan, County Meath. I started covering hurling matches when I was 15 simply because the career guidance teacher in our school was a brother of the Sports Editor. An early introduction to the theory that it’s not what you know but who you know…

Have you ever worked in a profession other than journalism?
Other than some time as an 80s DJ, no. I have been known to spin the oldies on the Irish trips – music that is.

What was your finest achievement playing football?
Playing sweeper on the Dunshaughlin Dynamoes reserve team beaten 16-1 by WIndtown United in the Meath and District League sometime around 1983 with a dodgy knee. We still hold the record for the biggest ever defeat in the league’s history.

Most memorable match covered?
Has to be the day Ireland beat England in Stuttgart at Euro 88. I only discovered I was doing the match report, and not the quotes, for the new Irish Daily Star an hour before kick-off. The party in the team hotel that night was something special.

The one moment in football you would put on a DVD?
Paul McGrath’s display at centre-half for Ireland against Italy in the Giants Stadium at the 1994 World Cup. Like me, he played at centre-back with a very dodgy knee. There the similarity ends.

Best stadium?
The old Highbury. I became an Arsenal fan back in Dublin the day Charlie George fell to the Wembley turf in 1971 so to work at Highbury as often as I did was a real treat.

…and the worst?
The old Dinamo Bucharest stadium we visited for a European game with St Patrick’s Athletic in 1990- Not long after Ceausescu had fallen with the aid of a few dozen bullets as it happened. No dollars meant no phone – we’ve all been there.

Your best ever scoop?
I did have a hand in the Vinnie Jones for Ireland story and the lads at the Star in London put up the great ‘Vinnie O’Jones’ headline. More recently I revealed that Irish tycoon Denis O’Brien is bankrolling Giovanni Trapattoni’s wage packet.

Your personal new-tech disaster?
Freelancing last October before I landed the gig as Irish Sun sports editor, I was covering the Slovakia-Russia game in Zilina for six Irish papers. I closed the laptop lid leaving the press box to walk into the adjacent conference room as Dick Advocaat came up the stairs. The computer has never worked since. Only a kind Czech mate, pun intended, rescued me as he allowed me to use his computer to access Google. The keyboard was a bit different but apparently it improved my copy. I did want to cry that night.

Biggest mistake?
Falling out with Roy Keane at a time when I thought it was clever to be opinionated and loud. I’m still opinionated but just glad I had the chance to make amends with Roy, with the help of Sunderland press guru Louise Wanshaw, a couple of years back in Portugal.

Have you ever been mistaken for anyone else?
Bizarrely I was mistaken for the then Aston Villa player Kevin Richardson as I making my way into St James’ Park to cover their game with Newcastle United for the Sunderland Echo. And no, I didn’t have a moustache at the time.

Most media friendly manager?
Mick McCarthy. He stood up for me in Italy at the 1990 World Cup when there was a row over payments for access to the players pool and we have been the best of buddies ever since.

Best ever player?
Paul McGrath, without a shadow of a doubt.

Best ever teams (club and international)?
The AC Milan side of Gullit, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Baresi and Maldini. Great players, great team. Bias makes me vote for the Ireland side that qualified for the Euros in 1988, our first ever finals. They beat England, drew with Russia and lost to Holland. And you could talk to them without press officers, minders or agents getting in the way.

Best pre-match grub?
I used to love the Indian food at Luton Town when I worked for the Daily Star in London and they were still a club covered by the Daily Star.

Best meal had on your travels?
The most memorable is a visit to an Argentinean steak-house in Amsterdam before an England game against Holland when Rob Shepherd and Joe Lovejoy discussed the Falklands War at length. I was waiting for the chef to carve them up any minute.

…and the worst?
Albania with Ireland. Anyone remember bringing tins of sardines and Jaffa cakes with you on trips to Eastern Europe?

Best hotel stayed in?
Hotel Bristol near Genoa for four days before Ireland played Romania in the 1990 World Cup. Sheer opulence.

…and the worst?
Albania wins again. Tirana. If you were there, you know…

Favourite football writer?
Joe Lovejoy for broadsheets, Rob Shepherd for tabloids and Harry Harris for being Harry Harris.

Favourite radio/TV commentator?
Mike Ingham on radio, Jonathan Pearce on television. Legends.

If you could introduce one change to improve PR between football clubs and football writers what would it be?
Conversation. It’s amazing what happens when people talk to each other openly and without suspicion. Clubs need to realise that.

One sporting event outside football you would love to experience?
The Masters. Thankfully this job has fulfilled all my other sporting ambitions.

Last book read?
The 150,000-word transcript for the tapes of the Jason McAteer book I am about to write. It is hilarious – as you would expect from a man called Trigger.

Favourite current TV programme?
The Big Bang Theory.

Your most prized football memorabilia?
My press pass for Euro 88. Millions in Ireland now claim they were there when Ray Houghton stuck the ball in the English net. I was.

Advice to any would-be football writer?
Learn how to work the internet, study radio and TV and remember – this is not a job, it is a way of life. If you are lucky, and I was, you will be paid to watch football matches. There is nothing better. And be nice to people on the way up – as my granny used to say you will meet them on the way back down.

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