Monday 21 October 2019

Legend Sheedy living life with different perspective after coming through 'frightening' cancer battle

Kevin Sheedy
Kevin Sheedy

Simon Hart

Given his place in the fixture's history, Kevin Sheedy seems a fitting choice of guest for the English FA at Wembley tomorrow night.

It was, after all, Sheedy who flashed a shot past Peter Shilton on a rainy night in Sardinia in Ireland's opening game at the 1990 World Cup finals.

Doubtless Sheedy will be asked before tomorrow's match to recall his historic equaliser in that 1-1 draw – Ireland's first goal in a World Cup finals – yet the 53-year-old has a more important motive for being at Wembley.

He will be there to support the Bobby Moore Fund, which two decades after the eponymous England captain's death, is marking 20 years of raising funds and awareness about bowel cancer.

And when Sheedy (pictured right) speaks, he will do so from personal experience. Bowel cancer has affected both his parents – it claimed his mother's life – and last August he underwent surgery himself to remove a tumour.

"I was very fortunate I caught it early," explains Sheedy, now U-18 coach at his old club Everton. "My mother died from bowel cancer – she got diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, which is the same (misdiagnosis) that Bobby Moore had – and my dad has had bowel cancer as well, but he's in remission.

"Early diagnosis is massive. Over 90pc of people who get early diagnosis have successful outcomes but a lot of people, blokes in particular, are too embarrassed to go to the GP. Unfortunately, they can die of that embarrassment."

In Sheedy's case, it was 12 months ago that he became aware of his symptoms. "I was going to the toilet a lot more than I should have been," he recalls. "It's something people don't like talking about but I had blood in my poo and with all the awareness campaigns I realised something was wrong. I went immediately to my GP."

Although blood and stool sample tests were clear, a subsequent camera exam detected the tumour. "It was a really frightening experience, when you've got the camera and you can see your insides. There were a lot of tissue samples getting taken so the realisation is there is something wrong. I had a half-hour wait before I saw the specialist and when they tell you you've got bowel cancer, your head spins."

The news was not all bad. "Fortunately the tumour hadn't broken the wall and it was removed," he adds of the subsequent operation at Aintree Hospital.

Sheedy, looking fit and well in his training kit at Everton's Finch Farm training ground, admits he has gained a "different perspective on life", and remains grateful for the many "humbling" messages that came his way, from "not just Evertonians and football people but people everywhere".

That reaction was hardly a surprise, not least on Merseyside where the one-time Liverpool reserve won two league titles and the European Cup Winners' Cup with Everton in the mid-'80s.

With Ireland, his name entered the pantheon with that World Cup strike in Cagliari, one of nine goals he scored in 46 internationals.

"It wasn't like a normal international, it was like a derby game," he remembers.

"Gary Lineker scored early on. It wasn't a great game; it was scrappy and there were very few opportunities because both managers were under huge pressure to not get beaten."

With 17 minutes left, Sheedy secured Ireland's share of the spoils. "I intercepted a pass from Steve McMahon, took a first touch and once I hit it I knew it was in. It arrowed into Peter Shilton's bottom left-hand corner. It's one of the highlights of my career."

It set in motion an Irish bandwagon which – via a penalty shoot-out win over Romania in which he converted the first kick – rolled all the way to a Rome quarter-final against Italy in front of almost 80,000 fans.

"It was a really tight game, but the one chance fell to (Toto) Schillaci who was on fire and he scored and we got beaten 1-0. We ran them close."

Sheedy has only fond memories of Charlton's reign. "Jack was straight as a die. He had a system of play and we got results. People say it was a long-ball game (but) it was longer balls with quality – Steve Staunton with his left foot, Denis Irwin with his right foot putting the ball in to John Aldridge. It was a style of play that upset the opposition."

Sheedy seldom gets to see today's Ireland team, yet there is one player in Giovanni Trapattoni's side who he knows plenty about: Everton right-back Seamus Coleman.

"He cost about £75,000 (from Sligo Rovers). What his value would be now, I don't know," he says. "He has fantastic energy and enthusiasm. He just runs at you, he does the unexpected." (© Independent News Service)

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