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'Duff's Not Going?': Anatomy Of A Runaway Twitter Rumour

Donny Mahoney
By Donny Mahoney
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Nature abhors a vacuum, and anyone curious about the make-up of the Ireland Euro 2012 squad and the identity of the 'mystery omission' - especially those with a day off from work this Bank Holiday Monday - was faced with a pretty expansive vacuum in the long hours leading up to Trapattoni's squad announcement this afternoon. A bonfire of incredible idle speculation spread across Twitter in the hours leading up to the squad announcement - none of it even slightly accurate - which provided a sort of Dangers Of Social Media 101 to the world. For months this seemed like a day that would be all about one person - James McClean - but instead it was a day of fog and confusion. 'Puts things in perspective' was a common enough response to the mystery omission's choice not to travel to Poland, though it was impossible for awhile to define exactly what that perspective should be.

Coming Down From The Mountain:

8 days ago, following Trap's Croagh Patrick climb, Irish Sunday football hacks were told that James McClean was '90-99%' likely to be on the plane. Trap also revealed that he planned to bring 4 wingers and 4 central midfielders. The initial speculation was that Trap would have to choose between Fahey, Green, McCarthy and Gibson in selecting his two central midfielders. Then, Monday's Irish Times featured a story saying that McClean would benefit at the expense of 'a more established player'. Most interestingly, Emmet Malone suggested that 'personal reasons' were the cause of the withdrawl, but thought that one of Ireland's starting wingers was more likely to be the person leaving the squad:

More worrying, though, is the prospect that the issue involved is a personal one, which would explain the extreme reluctance of Trapattoni or other association officials to reveal details, and that one of Ireland’s more established stars, perhaps Damien Duff or Aiden McGeady, is the player concerned.

Most of the speculation over the next week would centre on whether Duff or McGeady would be the player to opt out

Bank Holiday Saturday:

I was in an internet cafe on Georges St passing time when I became aware of a growing rumour that Damien Duff was the possible exclusion from Trap's squad on Twitter. There were no published reports or any vaguely credible to suggest that Duff wouldn't be going, just people seemingly guessing. I also note that Keith Fahey did not play for Birmingham in their Championship playoff match against Blackpool. Ken Early and Miguel Delaney popped up on Newstalk Saturday and reveal they have no idea who the player is. McGeady was mentioned as a possibility only because he plays so far away, and there is a parallel thought that if McClean is to travel, it must be at expense of another winger (this is entirely logical though it ignores Trap's post-Croagh Patrick pledge of 4 wingers).


Bank Holiday Sunday:

McGeady's father confirms in an Irish sunday paper that his son is going to Poland: “It’s not Aiden. I just spoke to him. He’s back to his best form as well, and the rift with his manager is sorted.” Duff plays 90 minutes for Fulham against Sunderland. Examiner sports editor Tony Leen confirms before bedtime that there will indeed be a mystery omission.


Squad announcement day:

I logged on to the internet around 13.00. Nearly immediately, I saw a tweet claiming Duff was out of the squad. A quick Twitter search revealed that Duff's name was being suggested repeatedly as the 'mystery omission'. A @ballsdotie tweet predicting Duff would trend this afternoon was interpreted by some as proof that Duff was in fact the 'mystery omission' (though these assumptions were entirely logical) . Soon football websites like 101 Great Goals were picking up on the story. All the while, most of the Irish football press was off Twitter, which seemed to exacerbate speculation (someone on Twitter called it 'omerta'). It was impossible to know if this was all an ingeniously-choreographed move by the FAI or Ireland's football hacks were just as clueless as the rest of us.

Some media outlets were even reporting on the stories of garbage websites that had popped up out of the blue claiming that Duff was out of the squad. Speculation then turned to the wellness of Duff's young son Woody. There was no primary source of that Duff's son was ill, but the rumour seemed at least plausible. The best excuse for the mystery omission that I saw on a Foot.ie thread where someone said the player had already pre-booked a holiday and couldn't get out of it.

Enda Brady Intervenes:

The one reporter who seemed to have some sort of inkling about the real identity of the 'mystery omission' was Sky's Enda Brady. Brady tweeted around 13.30 that a statement was imminent on the player's identity. While we had to wait two hours for the news, Brady was correct in saying that the 'mystery omission' wasn't Duff or Robbie Keane. Those who follow Brady on Twitter would have known that he was a staunch defender of James McCarthy back when some doubted his allegiance to Ireland, and perhaps we all should have put two and two together when Brady claimed he was 'gutted for a good friend' . But nothing seemed credible, so everything was believable - perhaps Brady's McGeady avatar was some sort of digital effigy to a player not able to make the trip. Most people seemed convinced - or wanted to believe - that it was an established senior player who wouldn't be making the squad


Minutes Before Trap Speaks:

At the Aviva, in the minutes before the annoucement, the press gang are briefed that Duff is going to Poland, and Miguel Delaney effectively killed the rumour with one tweet. They were not, though, informed of the 'mystery omission's' identity. It was clear then that most members of the press were as in the dark as the rest of us. As Trap was getting ready to announce the squad, the FAI tweeted the squad list and it was revealed that the player not going to Poland was James McCarthy. A statement was released around the same time explaining that McCarthy's father had been diagnosed with cancer.

In the minutes and hours afterwards, many people scratched their heads. There are a lot of questions - how come no journalist - not just ones in Ireland - broke this story ahead of 15.30 this afternoon? Were the rumours about Duff's family purely mischief or grounded in something like fact? How do some many people come to believe the same wrong thing all at once? If Duff was on Twitter, I suppose he could have quashed the rumour. Instead the guessing games raged. For followers of fact, there were clear signs that it was going to be two of either McCarthy, Gibson, Fahey or Green to miss out and ultimately the facts bore themselves out. For two hours, we all rode the rollercoaster of gossip up and down and up and down.


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