Monday 11 December 2017

Emotion hangs over Christie's vital summer of opportunity

Republic of Ireland's Cyrus Christie. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland's Cyrus Christie. Photo: David Maher/Sportsfile
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Cyrus Christie takes his football so seriously that he marked the end of his club season with Derby by heading off on a personal training camp.

But there are things going on in his life at the moment that are much bigger than sport - even though they relate to a man who inspired a young Christie with tales of his own endeavours in his chosen field.

Last year, Christie spoke proudly about his uncle Errol Christie, a hugely talented boxer who went into the Guinness Book of Records as the only British fighter to win all ten amateur titles.

He also won European honours and later turned professional where his fame earned him the chance to spar with Muhammad Ali when he visited his home town Coventry. Errol also battled racism along the way and wrote a book on his experiences.

But he was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 and is coming to terms with the news that it's terminal. His nephew posted a social media tribute after an emotional visit last week and travelled to America for Ireland's friendly against Mexico with a heavy heart.

"I got the phone call to say that he's only got a few more weeks to live," he explains. "He's got over 100 tumours in his body. No one has actually survived that long with what he's got, they've said. The tumours are that strong they're pushing through his body.

"I went down to visit him because obviously he's only got a while left and he could pass while I'm away with the national team. It could have been the last time I see him.

"He said he can't fight anymore, it's too much for him now and that's the first time I've heard anything negative coming from his mouth. He's got a great fan base and people in boxing love him.

"He's paved the way for our generation to do what we are doing, the struggles and the trials and tribulations he came through were fantastic and it gives you the courage to carry on and come through adversity.

"It's been a tough time for my family. Another cousin of mine died recently. But we carry on and they'll support me."

Christie speaks impressively and is conscious that he is entering a crucial period in his career. His uncle would approve of his dedication.

When his season at Derby finished, Christie decided to head off to Los Angeles for eight days of fitness work to ensure he was ready for Irish duty. He trained at EXOS, a high-performance facility for athletes that was first recommended to him by Lee Carsley when he was a teenager.

Sessions

"I was doing three sessions a day," he explains. "I wanted to be in the best shape possible and give myself the best chance to play and do well.

"It's a completely different (type of training) and it's stuff that I like to do compared to the way they do it in England. It's hard to explain. In the mornings it was movement and prep and physical conditioning. In the afternoon it was gym work.

"Later on, I would do some football stuff with another guy. They were long days and I used to start at 8am in the morning and I was not getting back until seven at night. Hopefully it pays off."

That trip came after a season with Derby that raised questions about his own future, although erroneous reports that he was out of contract this summer added to that. It turned out that he had signed an extension to his deal that ties him down for another year but the club did not release the news.

Gary Rowett was appointed manager in March and Christie has been in and out of the side with his new boss indicating that he prefers a different style of full-back.

"I'm quite an attack-based full-back and he prefers the more defensive (type)", he says. "I've been around long enough and that's the way it is with managers.

"He has to pick a team and fair play I'm old enough and mature enough to deal with that. I'll go in and adapt my game but I'm not going to change it too much because this is what I've made my career on. The manager likes me, he says I'm a good player but sometimes my style may not fit."

One doesn't have to read too far between the lines to be left with the impression that a move is possible but he shrugs off the suggestion by saying that his focus right now is the build-up to Sunday week's date with Austria.

"When that's done, I'll go on holiday and relax for a while and then when I get back to the club I'll see what happens."

His confidence is striking, though. And if Rowett decides to seek an alternative, it's safe to say that Christie thinks he would be making a mistake.

"It's not a concern for me really," he says. "I know what I'm capable of. I feel that I'm one of the best full-backs in that league (Championship).

"And, on my day, I think I am the best in the league."

Irish Independent

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