Saturday 21 April 2018

Exclusive: Kevin Sheedy discusses THAT goal, his cancer battle and Ireland's prospects at Euro 2016's Euro 2016 Countdown

Kevin Sheedy will be forever remembered as a legend of Irish football
Kevin Sheedy will be forever remembered as a legend of Irish football
Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

It's ironic that an Irish legend who honed his skills kicking a ball against the wall of his family pub is now in charge of the academy at Everton.

Kevin Sheedy enjoyed a rollercoaster career from making his professional debut at 16, being snapped up by Liverpool, moving to arch rivals Everton, playing a pivotal role as the Toffees brought home two league titles and starring for Ireland at two major championships.

He was as teak-tough off-the-field as on it and recently overcame cancer and has championed the cause in promoting awareness of Bowel Cancer.

Born in Builth Wells, Wales, Sheedy, whose father hailed from Ennis, spent hours on end outside 'The Tram' bar his parents ran improving the skillset that would one day make him one of the most lethal dead-ball specialists in the game.

"My dad played GAA as a youngster but it was really a football household," he told

"It was a country pub. So I was self-taught, I spent all day kicking the ball against the walls of the pub. Looking back it was just loads of practice and repetition. That's how I ended up with a good left foot.

"It was street football, there were no academies in those days. I remember training for my first team Hereford United as a youngster and we used to train on the shale car park outside Hereford United's ground on a Tuesday and Thursday and all we did was play. It wasn't stopped or coached.

"You were self-taught."

The 56-year-old tries to offer the same freedom to the youngster he mentors with the Toffees.

"Each coach is different and my style is to allow them to express themselves and play. You obviously coach them at certain times but if they are playing a game, I try to keep it going as long as I can so if they are making errors, they can be put in that situation again and better players will learn from their mistakes."

Kevin Sheedy
Kevin Sheedy is an academy coach at Everton

Sheedy made a meteoric rise through the ranks at his first club, Hereford United, and was a 16-year-old when he made his senior debut.

"I was fortunate to have an excellent manager John Sillett, he went on to win the FA Cup with Coventry City, and he saw me and he asked me to leave school early so I used to go training as a 15-year-old, I was like full time as a 15-year-old. That gave me an added start and I made my debut at 16.

"I was playing against men in the reserves so I was able to handle the physical side of it.

"A long time ago but it was great, Hereford had won the Third Division championship, it was our last game of the season and Dixie O'Neill needed a hat-trick to equal Ronnie Moore as the top goalscorer and he scored a hat-trick on the night. Tremendous memories. Running out for your first professional game is something I'll always remember."

After three seasons with The Whites, Liverpool, who in 1978 were in the middle of their golden age, came knocking but Sheedy, still a teenager, was very reluctant to become a Red.

"I was still a Hereford player and a friend of mine got two tickets for the European Cup final , Liverpool against Bruges and saw Kenny Dalglish score the winning goal and two weeks later I got a phonecall from the Hereford United chairman to say that they had accepted a £100,000 bid from Liverpool.

"I didn't really want to sign for Liverpool, I'd watched them first-hand and I'd seen the best midfield in Europe and I knew it was going to be difficult to break in.

"My chairman Peter Hill realised that I didn't really want to sign but £100,000 was a lot more then than it is now and if I didn't sign there was a probability that Hereford United might fold. He influenced me in that respect and I travelled up with my mum and dad, there were no agents at the time, and I signed a four-year contract."

First team opportunities were very scarce and a stroke of misfortune would see Sheedy's Liverpool career stagnate while another Irishman's flourished.

Sheedy suffered an ankle injury while playing for the Ireland under18s against England in Anfield and his chance to establish himself in the red half of Merseyside vanished.

"It was an under-18s game at Anfield, funnily enough at the Kop end. I went in for a tackle to get a shot and one of the players for England went over the top of the ball and done my ankle.

"I was out for a period of time and Ray Kennedy, who never got injured, got injured and Ronnie Whelan got in and took his opportunity.

"My four years at Liverpool toughened me up mentally, working with great players day-in and day-out makes you become a better player.

"It wasn't enjoyable at the time because you're not playing in the first team. Looking back at my Everton career, a lot of the things I learned at Liverpool, particularly being mentally tough, helped me throughout my career for Everton and Ireland."

With his deal soon to expire, Sheedy was approached by Everton through an intermediary and Howard Kendall went to see the left-footer play for the Liverpool reserves.

"It was the last game of the season and I was playing for Liverpool reserves at Preston. I got a call off Colin Wood, who was a journalist with the Daily Mail and he asked me if I would be interested in signing for Everton and I said I would. He said he'd put the phone down and Howard Kendall would give me a ring.

"I thought it was one of the lads winding me up. Having a laugh but sure enough, I put the phone down and Howard Kendall rang and he was going to come and watch me playing, he had heard good things about me and he wanted to come and see for himself.

"I played well and I got a phonecall the following week to come and play for Everton.

"He knew the situation, because when your playing reserve football and you know you're not going to get into the first team, he made a crack and said, 'I hear you don't always try' and I said, 'Mr Kendall, I always try'. I obviously did try because he signed me."

Kendall would have a huge impact on Sheedy's career.

"He made me the player I was. I was skillful but he got the best out of me and I've got a lot to thank him for. All my best moments  in club football came playing for Howard.

"The team wasn't put together straight away. As a Liverpool player, I was in digs in Anfield so I used to go and watch them in midweek games.

"I saw Graeme Sharpe make his debut and Adrian Heath signed from Stoke for £750,000. Kevin Ratcliffe making his debut. I saw the nucleus of the team Howard was putting together.

"It didn't gel immediately but the players he brought in, Peter Reid and Andy Gray, brought experience to the youth in the team and the team took shape but it was about a season-and-a-half  before we really hit the heights.

"I think Howard's rapport with the local press bought him a little extra time. They weren't baying for him to get the sack and in the meantime we managed to get the results to keep him in the job before things crystallised in 85."

League titles came in 1985 and 1987, FA Cup success in 84 and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 85 but Sheedy looks back with regret at his team's inability to play in Europe as a result of the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985 and the subsequent ban for English teams.

Sheedy Everton.jpg
The Everton squad in 1985 Sheedy on the far left on the bottom row

"That was the decline of our team, we hit the heights in the league. We won it in '85, won the Cup Winners' Cup and were beaten in the FA Cup by Manchester United. In '86, we finished runners-up to Liverpool, who had done the double, runner's up in the FA Cup and in '87 we won the league but '85 when all the British teams were banned from Europe, our team began to break up.

"Howard Kendall went to Athletic Bilbao, players were leaving and we didn't really have the opportunity to stay together as a team for long enough to play in the European Cup."

After 10 years at Goodison Park, Sheedy left for Newcastle on a free and helped to the Division One title and promotion in 1992-3 and played one season with Blackpool in 1993-4 before retiring.

As Everton waned, Ireland's fortunes blossomed.

Kevin Sheedy pictured to the right of Packie Bonner at Euro 88

"The turning point was Jack Charlton taking over. Ireland was under-achieving with the talented squad Ireland had and Jack instilled his footballing philosophy on us and had players buying into what he wanted to do. I couldn't have wished to be in a better place at a better time.

"I remember coming back from Germany 1988, back to Dublin and it was absolutely rammed, the whole city, I don't think too many of those people were too worried about the football and coming back from Italia 90, there were 250,00 people in O'Connell Street and they weren't concerned with stylish football, they wanted winning football.

"It was a long-ball game but when you had players of the quality of Denis Irwin, Chris Hughton and Steve Staunton. It was a long ball with accuracy.

"I grew up watching European Championships and World Cups, to one day get there is something you dream of. To be successful with your club team but then go on and play on a world stage and play in all the games and the Euros and the World Cup... it's a different level altogether."

So what are the abiding memories from Euro 88 and Italia 90?

"The memories would be the build-up to Germany and the training camps. The camaraderie of the players and the magic moments that came from it.

"It was a relaxed camp. The players trained hard. We went to Malta to acclimatise. The players knew the importance of it and with the first game against England... we trained really hard and Jack let us relax. There was no massive pressure and that showed in the performances.

"Playing against world class players and competing with them gives you extra confidence.

"I don't think we realised how mad everything was back home. It was only when press people showed us videos of venues where people were watching it. Eventually we realised the impact. My lasting memories will be of the games but the actual homecoming, when you realise how you've affected that many people... I remember looking down O'Connell street at 250,000 people and I go to Dublin quite often and that moment is etched in my memory."

Sheedy will be the answer to the same pub quiz question for as long as the island of Ireland exists.

"The confidence we got from the European Championships took us into the qualifying for the World Cup. It gave us confidence that on our day we could beat anybody. First game against England and the pressure was on and scoring the first goal at a World Cup that no one can take from me.

"When you finish your career, you can look back and say I was the first Irish player to score at a World Cup."

The Irish Independent on the day after the 1-1 draw with England in Cagliari

He was chastised by Jack Charlton for the move that saw Italy rob the ball and break for the only goal in the World Cup quarter-final in Rome.

"I wouldn't deliberately give the ball away, so I blame Aldo because I put a good ball into his feet and it was Franco Baresi who nipped in and took it off him and they went down the other end and scored.

"Looking back, it was one-nil, 80,000 people in Rome. it was a close game and if we managed to overcome them Argentina were waiting in the final and they were an aging team, they were not as good as the side in '86, and Jack said at the time that you will never realise how close you came to playing in a World Cup final."

A regular visitor to Ireland, Sheedy shared a special anecdote from a trip back to the Emerald Isle last year.

"I went over to Ireland last year for the races and I was staying in a hotel and a couple came up to me and they said when I scored against England they weren't going out with each other. They lived in the same village and they were in the same venue when I scored they were the two nearest people and they hugged each other and kissed and they ended up getting married and that was their 25th anniversary."

Sheedy returned to the spotlight in 2012 after it was revealed that he had been diagnosed with Bowel Cancer, a disease that had claimed the life of his mother and that his father survived.

Kevin is currently in remission after successfully seeing off the ailment.

"It does change your outlook when you get diagnosed, a lot of good has come from it. I've become an ambassador for Beating Bowel Cancer.

"I've done lots to raise awareness and I've got letters and e-mails from people who, as a result of reading my book of seeing me speak on the subject, have gone to their GPs, been diagnosed with bowel cancer and have beaten it.

"It was something that happened to me but I've been able to help other people and I'm really pleased with that.

"I lost my mother to bowel cancer, my dad has had it but has beaten it. It's close to my heart, so any kind of awareness I can raise is great.

"It puts life into reality and I said to my wife that if I help to save one person it's worth it but it has been more than that.

"I'm really proud that I've been able help people and 90pc of people are treated successfully if they are treated early for bowel cancer."

Sheedy has said that one of his main goals was to encourage men to get themselves screened.

"It's just embarrassment, men think if they don't go to the doctors it will just go away but cancer doesn't go away and that embarrassment can kill you."

So what of Ireland's chances this summer under Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane.

"It's going to be a great occasion for the players and the fans. Sweden is a winnable game and if you manage to win your first game, or not get beat, you're still in the tournament. If you get beat, then it's very difficult to qualify.

"We have players that are playing for top clubs, we are a force to be reckoned with. If the players can play to their maximum, they will give their maximum without a doubt, they have a good chance of qualifying from the group."

Sheedy 90.jpg
Republic of Ireland v. England in Stadio Sant'Elia, Cagliari. The result was England 1 (goal by Gary Linekar) - Republic of Ireland 1 (goal by Kevin Sheedy). 11/06/1990. INDO PIC
Sheedy celebrates scoring Ireland's first World Cup goal

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