Tuesday 6 December 2016

Daft Harry Arter episode an embarrassing consequence of irresponsible tweeting

Published 08/10/2016 | 02:30

Harry Arter: Owed an apology Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Harry Arter: Owed an apology Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

It must have been awkward when Martin O'Neill picked up the phone to ask Harry Arter if he was still committed to playing international football for Ireland.

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His only reason to doubt it was an unexpected series of press conference questions arising from Twitter speculation that Arter was ready to declare for England.

O'Neill appeared surprised when it was raised in the minutes after the win over Georgia, and he wasn't acting.

"I was speaking to him myself (earlier in the week) but he didn't mention anything about going elsewhere," he said.

As far as O'Neill was concerned, Arter was absent from the Aviva Stadium win because of a tight hamstring that has also ruled him out of the trip to Moldova.

The story checked out. Keith Andrews had written in his Daily Mirror column that he had attended the Watford-Bournemouth game and watched Arter pull up awkwardly - even though he went on to finish the match.

After the game, Arter had spoken to local media in Bournemouth about the international break.

"It's an honour to represent your country," he said, referencing the competition for places that led to him being benched for 90 minutes in Serbia last month. Irish matters were on his mind.

Last week, there was much mirth when Sky duo Jeff Stelling and Paul Merson suggested that the in-form player would be a left-field inclusion in the England squad.

They seemed unaware that he'd made his senior Irish debut against England in 2015 and would likely have featured in the European Championships only for a last-minute injury sustained in Cork which is in keeping with his bad luck in a green jersey.

It did raise awareness that Arter was yet to play a competitive minute, which technically would allow him to switch, and it's understood that the player blames this daft Sky episode on the baseless rumours that duly circulated about his intentions.

Inaccurate info was coming from somewhere and members of the media felt there was enough substance in 'rumours' to tweet about it. This gathered steam to the extent that O'Neill had to be asked about it.

It's believed that O'Neill was reluctant to say anything definitive because he didn't know where the story had come from and had to treat it as a serious matter, given that the press pack all had questions.

With Ireland travelling yesterday, he conducted another briefing for daily papers late on Thursday that was dominated by Arter.

Now that it has been established that the story was bogus, the whole episode is an embarrassment, achieving nothing more than casting doubt on the player's character. It was a dangerous story to give oxygen to without being 100pc sure that it was on the cards.

Remember, Arter has gone through some tough times personally over the past year and had spoken of how he appreciated the support of the Irish camp.

In football, they say you never should be surprised, but there was too much about this tale which didn't add up. To claim - as one prominent voice did - that he was 'long gone' without having verified the information is the latest example of how Twitter-orientated reporting is sprinting ahead in the race to the bottom.

Arter is owed several apologies. Don't expect them to go viral in the age of tweeting irresponsibly.

Irish Independent

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