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Doctor brings dose of luck to team

Three decades ago David Hickey was a stylish half-forward who helped give Heffo's boys panache and poise during a golden era for Dublin football.

And last Sunday the years melted away as Hickey ran out with the same old dash on to the hallowed ground of Croke Park to salute the players who wrecked Kerry's dreams after a most remarkable seven minutes of gaelic football.

Now a selector, he describes his role with typical self-deprecation as "an iconic former great who says nothing".

But victory was sweet and he admits his feet haven't touch the ground yet.

"It was a great win," said Dr Hickey, who is one of the country's leading kidney specialists and current Director of Transplantation in Ireland -- and had to deal with his own health challenge which he admits has helped make every day all the sweeter.

"I got my diagnosis of cancer in 2006. It was in the sinus behind my nose and close to my right eye.

"I had surgery in Beaumont under Professor Michael Walsh who did a fantastic job but I needed complementary treatment to go along with the surgery including a special form of radiation because the cancer was so close to my right eye.

"It couldn't be done here in Ireland so I had to go to Toronto. I was out of action for nine months," he said.

David then rehabilitated in Cuba for some months -- a country that has a special place in his heart.

Back in 1999, and long before his own health problems, he used the 25th anniversary of his Dublin team winning the 1974 All-Ireland to make a protest.

When the team was presented to the crowd at Croke Park he took off his jacket to reveal a T-shirt that read: "End the blockade of Cuba."

And he has consistently questioned how Cuba can provide a world-class health system for 11 million people with a budget similar to that of one major hospital here.

"I went to Cuba for rehabilitation after treatment in Canada. It's a place of sunshine and happiness. Cuba did a lot of work for me and their Ministry for Health did a lot of work for me and helped me get through it," he said.

"I went back to work in September 2006. I received check-ups every three months and I got my five-year clearance a year ago which means I'm cured," he said.

"Health is not a political topic in Cuba, it is a basic human right. Here, health is on a political agenda and on a financial agenda in many other countries."

He is grateful for all the treatment he received and his return to good health.

"I got over that period and things have been pretty good since then. I'm 59 now and enjoying life and work," he said.

Dr Hickey has performed more than 1,000 kidney transplants since 1983 but says every single operation is like the first time.

"It's a new patient and a new life. There is a donating family involved who have had to endure a death so it is an incredibly spiritual thing really."

Bringing the Sam Maguire into the hospitals was a great joy.

"We brought the Cup into a little patient, Isobel Goggin, who we transplanted the previous week. For me, the hospital staff and the transplant and medical team, it was a very uplifting experience. I am very lucky to be working here."

He plays down his role in the current Dublin set-up.

"Pat [Gilroy] invited me back into the set-up in 2010 after the Kerry debacle of August 2009. He drew a line in the sand and decided how it was going to be in the future.

"He very graciously asked me to come back and play the role of former great. I'm more of that than a real contributor to the team but I have thrown my heart and soul into it and been rewarded a millionfold because they are an incredible bunch of people."

Sunday Independent