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29th Jun 2024

Kenny’s Kids: What it was really like covering every Irish football player everyday for three years

Ronan Calvert

Kenny's Kids

I guess I was busy.

‘Human beings suffer…they get hurt and get hard.’ 

I couldn’t write like Seamus Heaney when I landed my first bit of paid media work. I still can’t and won’t. 

You will discover this shortly, if you haven’t already. 

But far side of a mostly online English degree, I understand his work just enough to quote him, so we’re off to a good start here. 

Why? ‘Cause if I remember right, any weekend sports column worth its salt should begin with either a pretentious quote or some tenuously linked cultural reference from the newscycle. 

The more dramatic the better. 

Or so the school of Neil Francis taught me back when I was a ‘Sindo fee-payer. 

“Franno” has since switched papers because he compared a rugby player of Filipino heritage to an Oompa Loompa. 

Around the same time, I switched focus from rugby (the Limerick version) to Irish Soccer because, well, I wanted to. 

The best Irish soccer writers use three asterisks (an asterism?) to switch between scenes.


Here I am. Finally finished college and lucky enough to be living comfortably at home for the summer before taking my big step into the real world. 

Writing on these pages is keeping me ticking over, but the time on my hands is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve some goals of mine; goals which distracted my attention in many a UL lecture hall.  

That multi-faceted Irish Soccer website I want to launch. That full-length album I finally have the musical ability, technology and time for. 

Oh, and the genuinely creative articles I’ve long wanted to write. 

The last month or so should have been the golden time – God knows when I will have so much freedom again –  but it wasn’t. 

The soft creative excitement I remember from 2018, 2019, 2020 was all hardened.

And it took a coffee, pen and notebook to work out why. 


November 2021.

When I inherited ‘Kenny’s Kids’ back in March, I knew the beast I was signing up for –  but also knew that to forge a career in the Irish media space you best go the extra mile to make it happen. 

My deal is to tweet every single time an Irish football player starts a game, scores a goal, assists a goal, comes on as a sub, gets sent off, buys a pint of milk, whatever. 

And I’m buzzing to be doing it, especially as it is in my area of interest and has replaced working in an off licence as my college job.

(Not that the offie gig was bad, but my manager clearly thought I was a twat).

So that’s good.

It’s also allowing me to work online here in Stockholm, where I’m based for my kinda-covid-restricted Erasmus. 

Just as well; I would be utterly broke without it, and my four classes a week are taught online (this was annoyingly only confirmed after I arrived) so it fills lots of spare time.

About a month away from buying a tweed turtleneck, I’m doing some of my best work over here; enjoying the ‘Fika’ culture and feeling like one of those cool Irish-abroad journalists who aren’t Ewan MacKenna. 

Maintaining this pace when post-covid reality resumes will be far more difficult but right now it’s hard to think of a nicer college job.

Even if I do miss every Friday’s pre-drinks to do League of Ireland teamsheets. 

Particular resentment is reserved for UCD, a spiteful football club who religiously post their lineup forty minutes after everyone else. 

I’ve been patient, but I’m beginning to wonder if followers would forgive me if Colm Whelan lost his place up front to Cloml Wehlan every so often. 

An annoying situation to have when you’re trying to mix with new people, but I do get a kick out of winding up my new confused Northern friends by saying things like “But what if there’s big Cobh Ramblers team news, Ciara? Do you have a plan for that???” 

They tell me my old retail manager was right.



“Hiya, would I be able get another cappuccino, please?” 

“That’ll be three euro and eighty cents. You can tap there when you’re ready”

“Grand, thanks a lot.”

June 2024 with that pen in hand. I’ve had the realisation that my once joyous relationship with creativity feels different now and I’m going to work on it.

But to do that I need to understand why it changed. It’s been nagging me for long enough so I tell myself I’m going to stay here scribbling for as long as it takes. 

Better make this second coffee last then. 

Before my Kenny’s Kids (now Ireland Radar) days I saw creativity as fun; ideas as thrilling and potential as pretty much endless. Something that made my daily demeanour brighter and lighter. 

A good example is, despite not really having the required skills, 20-year-old me saved money and booked studio time to record a four-song EP.

All vibes, all for love of the game

I mostly kept things simple: Guitar, bass, vocals and some digital drums. Nowadays I’d be looking for the world’s smallest violin. 

I’m working. I’m writing. I’m thinking. I’m trying. A “ploughing on” mindset I learned during my post-lockdown Kenny’s Kids days.

Learned while gym memberships were cancelled, pub invites were ignored and going for a run without missing a Sammie Szmodics goal involvement proved impossible. 

Yeah, I’m working. I’m writing. I’m thinking. I’m trying.

But taking real action? Nahhh.


March 2022.

It’s the day after Ireland 1-0 Lithuania at the Aviva Stadium. 

I never put all my eggs in the sports journalism basket. Every journalist I’ve ever met has either warned me against it in no uncertain terms or made reference to its modest pay and unsociable hours. 

Working a nine-to-five office job and still enjoying matches with your friends somehow sounds more appealing than taking something you love and converting it into a profession.  

I always thought marketing or something would be grand. Could always use my spare time to write articles and songs and do whatever. 

But sitting in Starbucks writing a ‘Five Things We Learned From the International Break’ piece, still high off my first experience of the Lansdowne Road pressbox, I wonder for a short while if my true calling is staring me right in the face. 

There’s a certain thrill I get when I cover a live event from multiple angles – tweets, a match report, press conference quotes, reaction etc – and when you do a good job it’s a hard feeling to beat.

I’m writing articles for the FAI Match programme, I’ve just made an appearance on BBC Lincoln and I’m holding doors for Tony O’Donoghue, but next week there will be no room for innovation again.

Back player tracking, baby.


‘Alan Browne starts for Preston’, ‘CJ Hamilton is on the bench for Blackpool’, ‘George Nunn comes on for Derby U21s’.

Every single hour of my average working week – all of which happened around my college timetable.

There are far far worse jobs but I hated how it affected my brain.

The ridiculous amount of screen time monitoring Twitter, even when not on the clock, assigned a completely unhealthy proportion of my mind to the most trivial things.

But I cherished elements of it and I told myself that I’ve got to give the followers the service they love.

It appears true that if you get deep enough into the matrix of it all, you end up with ‘Twitter brain’ where you think in the constructs of a cynically polarising website. 

More tribal, more square, less imaginative.

That’s also why I could keep doing the work for so long. If my brain mantained the same clarity after two-plus years as it had when I started, then I wouldn’t have still been doing it. 

I felt it mould into Twitter-tracker mode. I turned up for my digital gym (Twitter) every day, did hundreds of reps (Tweets and scrolls) and made myself the dream athlete (Twitter-brained lunatic) for the job. 

As for my real fitness regime? Pfft. The only thing I was benching was Matt Doherty in my preferred Ireland XIs.


March 2023. 

Yesterday, a nice man from a major English newspaper’s sports section approached little old me for a few hundred words about “Ireland’s talent factory” and I bit his hand off with all the enthusiasm of Big Mick towards a 0-0 draw in Tbilisi. 

He wanted a reply as soon as possible. I didn’t have access to a laptop and it was far too noisy to speak on the phone. 

But the enthusiasm I just mentioned – charged by the many Stella cans I was busy drinking on Carriage F of a heaving matchday train towards Heuston – was far too strong. 

I excuse myself from my group – which goes down well – to let the journalism gods smile down on my cracked Samsung screen; believing each lager-wet character will pave my way towards a proper career in this thing that I maybe want; thinking I’m experiencing the best creative flow of my life. 

A couple of train stops – and more than a couple of friendly insults later – the deed is done.

The day got easier from there. Mostly because Ireland matchdays, unlike newspaper articles, write themselves: 

Train stops – Rain starts /  Luas free – Dart not free 

Slattery’s packed – (Ireland invariably lose to a long-shot) – Feeling empty 

Queues long – Life short / Train starts – Many stops

Good night / God bless. 

This morning’s hangover thankfuly came with the consolation that the quality of my contribution leant slightly more Grand Central than the Limerick Junction-standard I’d expected.

They might actually use it.

And I’m discovering that such obscene showings of #HighPerformance don’t go unnoticed across the pond. 

Another big English paper just published my – this time Stella free – thoughts, giving me top-billing in a similar Irish Football article.

And look, jokes aside, I’m feeling fairly proud at this point. Hard work paying off and all that.

This is what makes all the Leyton Orient updates worth it. 

Half way through the article I had to laugh as I read the sentence ‘We also spoke to former Republic of Ireland manager Mick McCarthy’.

I have to be doing something right, even if I’m probably not the best company to be around. 

My ego is growing but an invite onto Jake Humphrey’s podcast is proving elusive. 


It’s not an exaggeration to say I stopped thinking about friends, places and activities after a while because there was no point. 

There were long autopilot periods where my weekday timetable was  – wake up, go to college, do Kenny’s Kids work, go to bed – and it was as simple as that.

No slots were opening up any time soon so tunnel vision was required.

Semi-present Saturday morning coffees and occasional Saturday nights out were breaks, of sorts. The rest was full on.

All ultimately my own choice, of course. There was a fiery motivation keeping me going. 

Five factors were driving it – my burning passion for Irish Football, career opportunities it could open, a convenient weekly wage, my genuinely great relationship with followers and the idea that working in a shop would be worse because at least this way I don’t miss matches I care about.

So I kept going, increasingly thinking that my tiny subject matter was more important than it actually was. 

That care isn’t the worst thing, but it can distract from the reality that the world promises a lot more love, wonder and adventure than the fact ‘Ronan Curtis starts for Portsmouth’. 

A weekend booked off for Electric Picnic felt more profound than it should have, now that I think about it. 



I’ve gotten to the bottom of it – my second mug of coffee, that is – and if I think, type or scribble any longer they’re gonna kick me out of here. 

It’s a good thing I’ve more or less gotten to the bottom of my frustration too. 

Now, whether I should share all my rough work is another question, but I will share this much:

For three years I was kinda hardened by the daily need to accept missing out on things. 

Whenever I persisted through anti-social working weeks while there were better things to do outside my window, my feelings responded the same as they would to tiny failures.

That’s human and it’s fine, but when you persist every day for a week, a month, a year, three years – those tiny failures do build up and the digital brain rot doesn’t help.

Look, maybe those failures were real too – like failing to maintain frequent contact with people I care about, failing to exercise and failing to live in the moment.

Eventually, any idea that four years ago would have seen nothing in the way but blue skies, sees big scary mountains instead.

Ever-busyness forges this automatic rejection response of “sure, I can’t do that” to just about everything. Even when you can.

This person doesn’t say “I’m going to jump into that” like he used to.

Stuck, he says “Ehhhh I’m going to need one year to plan for this and another to improve my skills and another to attempt it and…”.

All with an air of pessimism. 

All while knowing this new unconfident thinking is a stupid endless loop, yet not knowing how to break the cycle.

Until he traces why his thinking changed in the first place, that is. 

It might be rare that you find enough time to truly stop and think backwards without distraction in the modern world – that’s certainly the case when you’re a full-time college student and full-time “Irish player tracker” at the same time – but can’t it be powerful? 

A few focused hours of reflection like this can catapult people forward because, as my good pal Heaney puts it, “Hope and history rhyme”.

I think I can endorse that message. 


My walk home from the café is as shamelessly, painfully poetic. 

Thinking about my winding path back through those three years of persistence leads me to a familiar safe space where ideas, notions and dreams are hopeful again. 

It’s like perspective is shifting with my steps, it’s like I know “Further shore is reachable from here”.

Am I feeling open again? Because it kinda feels like First Year of college again.

And what if I mark this leaf-turning moment by channelling these feelings into an article about it? 

I can picture it being great.


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