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Breaking news, recruiting players and an online addiction - The fans behind the Twitter accounts charting Irish football

The fans behind Kenny’s Kids and Rep of Ireland Player Tracker explain why they gave up their free time to track Irish players, and why they quit.

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THE ARC OF the internet is long, but it bends to ultra-niche specialisation. 

Hence now alongside Tesla, SpaceX and a puffed-up messianic-libertarian complex in the ownership of Elon Musk is an ardent corner of Twitter dedicated to tracking in real time the feats and contributions of a breathtakingly wide selection of Irish footballers. 

Many fans of Irish football – along with some who run the game and all of its journalists – are well-acquainted with some of these accounts, including Irish Abroad, Kenny’s Kids and the now defunct Rep of Ireland Player Tracker. 

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These accounts track hundreds of Irish footballers across the world, tweeting their appearances along with any notable achievements within said games.

The scope of some are dizzying. 

Take 19 February this year, a day on which Rep of Ireland Player Tracker sent 82 updates. These included obvious achievements, such as Evan Ferguson’s Premier League debut for Brighton, Nathan Collins’ first league start for Burnley and Shane Long’s goal first Premier League goal in two years. 

But along with that…

Leigh Kavanagh and Killian Cahill start for the Brighton U18′s. 

Ireland U18 Eiran Cashin with a block. 

Glory Nzingo starts for the Stade de Reims reserves. 

All of this was done for free and ultimately at a cost.

Tim Graham, the man behind the updates, announced three days later that he was burned out and calling it quits. He had set up a Patreon page to try and monetise the pursuit but it didn’t work, so with his energy and time not commensurate with the effort needed, it was time to move on. He had accumulated 12,800 followers. 

“Christ, it is exhausting”, Tim tells The42. “I wouldn’t have had much of a social life, I really wouldn’t. Work was suffering. I don’t regret doing it, but I don’t have a lot to show for it now. I think I did something exceptional. I’m very proud of the page, but what good is it to me now?” 

The Kenny’s Kids page is still as active as ever but its founder, Kevin Higgins, has stepped away and the account is now run by Ronan Calvert, a journalist working with Pundit Arena. 

“I unfortunately overwhelmed myself a bit, doing too much,” says Kevin, saying it took up, at the very minimum, 20 hours a week.

Football Manager inculcated in Kevin a love for player detail, but it was only when Stephen Kenny was appointed as Ireland U21 manager did it marry with a propulsive positivity about Irish football. 

“Coinciding with Kenny taking over I was feeling positive about where things were going”, says Kevin. “You had up and coming players like Parrott and Connolly and Obafemi. I saw the slow decline of Irish football, but this was the first time I felt things were turning around. There was a positive angle, a youth angle, but I wanted to make sure everyone was being covered that the 23- and 24-year-olds down in League Two weren’t being ignored, either.” 

Here’s the problem with being comprehensive with a diaspora as wide as Ireland’s: the deeper you dig, the further you realise you have to go. Tim flung himself into it when Kevin announced he was quitting Kenny’s Kids, and while his thoroughness was partly self-motivated, it was also thrust upon him. 

“I was just a big fan of Kenny’s Kids, he said he was chucking it and that he couldn’t make it work, so I stupidly thought, ‘Well of course I can do it when he didn’t.’

“Once I commit to something, it’s all or nothing. But I’d get messages if I did miss something: some lad in League Two who had an U18 cap a decade ago put a ball in for a goal for Scunthorpe. Who cares? I don’t care, so who else cares?

“It wouldn’t be the player [contacting him] very often. Sometimes it would be a follower, or other times it’s an agent or an uncle or a parent. You should have seen my private messages!” 

“I had one or two parents…one in particular was very stringent about it”, says Kevin. “He would be telling me that his son was in a line-up in a league a long way down the structure and then I’d get a follow up message very quickly saying, ‘Hey, I sent you this.’ It wasn’t anything aggressive, but you’d feel a fair deal of pressure to make sure that player got a mention.”

Here’s the method to the madness.  

Kevin found an app, SofaScore, which allowed him track individual players rather than matches, and he then buttressed his sources with methods of modern journalism: following the Twitter accounts of every club with an Irish player, along with the personal Instagram accounts of as many players as he could find. “Players love posting about themselves”, says Kevin. 

It all helped him get stories, breaking the news that Adam Idah was going to make his first Premier League start against Manchester United in 2020, which brought him a swift rebuke from Norwich City. 

Tim, meanwhile, might leave a legacy. “I’ve recruited, I’d say, between 15 and 20 eligible players for Ireland.”  

Tracking Cian Coleman in the Leeds’ U18 team, he became aware that some of his team-mates were also eligible for Ireland. The father of midfielder Connor Douglas messaged to say his son could play in green, while attacker Ronnie McGrath got in touch to say that he too is eligible for Ireland. Tim says the FAI were unaware of McGrath, and thus passed along the message to Abbottstown. 

“Two weeks before I gave it up, he messaged me to say, ‘You put up these other fellas, I don’t know if you know, but I’m Irish. My grandparents are from Dublin.’ I knew the name: he’d been on a Match of the Day spotlight video on an up-and-coming England underage player, it’s on YouTube.

“I’d assumed the FAI knew about this guy and had turned them down. But he said, ‘Nope, there’s never been any contact.’ Why he couldn’t do it himself I don’t know, but I said I’d send it to the FAI. I have no doubt he’ll be capped for Ireland at youth level.

“I just wanted to post team-sheets, but this became a major part of what I was doing.”

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The FAI, meanwhile, gave Kevin a column in the international match programme in which he profiled some rising stars. 

Saturdays were both accounts’ busiest days, and they began early in the morning with a slate of U18 Premier League games followed by the usual round of fixtures in England and Scotland. 

Football’s principle of endless growth, however, meant that their endeavours were never really restricted to those few hours a week. 

“There’s Saturday evening games, then there’s games on a Sunday, and every weeknight there’s games,” sighs Tim. “The concentration levels you need to stay on it… I didn’t have much of a social life. Weekends: gone. If it was just the matches and the team sheets it would be one thing, but you always have to be switched on. There’s always something happening.

“And the way I am, I can’t do half-measures. I’d be the same as any other random account if I did it that way, and I didn’t want that. I wanted it to be top-drawer.”

“I was doing a course in UCD and there were nights out where I had to be told to put the phone down,” says Kevin. “I was that addicted to covering it, that it would dictate when I’d have my dinner, or when I would do certain things.”

Tim tried a Patreon account and Kevin sourced sponsorship, but neither could sufficiently monetise the gig, which was a factor in the end, though not its sole reason. 

“Half of the reason I left was a concern over how it was affecting my lifestyle,” says Kevin, talking of the “addiction” of social media. “A part of me has always thought it was unhealthy: that level of addiction to getting things posted, and getting the reaction to it.” 

“It’s very stressful”, says Tim. “It’s hard to explain, if I didn’t do it to a certain standard then it didn’t really matter. Your mind is constantly working, and in a broader sense, it is social media addiction. I know it was very concentrated on one particular thing, football, but being so clued into what’s happening on Twitter would wear you down.” 

Kevin’s interest has been largely maintained – I thoughtlessly rang him during an Ireland U16 international game – and he says he is open to returning to it in the future, if there’s a full-time opportunity. 

Tim, meanwhile, says he’s “not bitter, but disappointed” by the lack of reward, and has disengaged completely. 

“I’ve deleted the [Twitter] app from my phone. I just don’t want to know, to be brutally honest. The weeks after I quit, I didn’t look up a single football result, I’d skip the football sections of the newspaper.

“Now I’m not on my phone constantly, to make sure the Morecambe team sheet gets out on time. You might laugh at this, but I have gotten into yoga and meditation. 

“I’ve gone the other way: very chilled, very detached.” 

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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