Saturday 24 March 2018

Stephen Hunt: A selfless pro who was always going to make it

I'm glad Kevin got out at the right time but the manner of his exit is a concern for the game, says Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt and Kevin Doyle. Photo: Sportsfile
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

On the day I signed for Reading, I was introduced to a young Irish kid called Kevin Doyle. I had been in England for eight years, whereas he had just joined the club from Cork City after a couple of years in the League of Ireland.

From day one it was clear he was comfortable in that environment and that he had the mentality and ability to succeed. He was able to compete in the Championship straight away, bringing pace, power, enthusiasm and strength in the air. He was so strong on his left and right foot that sometimes you didn't know which was his weaker one.

That didn't happen by accident. He had obviously worked on his game at Cork and Pat Dolan and Mick Wallace deserve big credit for his progression from the start, and I notice he thanked both of them when he announced his retirement last week.

His mentality was always very strong. His love of football might have developed over time because he was comfortable and happy in Wexford before he joined Reading, but that was probably why he was so level-headed when he arrived.

He got in the team before me, even though he was competing with Leroy Lita and Dave Kitson for one of the two starting spots up front. It's remarkable to think now that he quickly made himself the number one choice. His temperament was key at that time. He never got too down and never got too high which was incredible when you remember he went from Cork to international football within a year and took it all in his stride.

I remember sticking up for him once on a night out in Wexford when someone started to have a go at him. With my arrogance and confidence I thought I could stick up for my friend. Kevin was too polite to say a word. I remember thinking at the time he does most things well, off and on the pitch. In fact, I used to call him 'Peter Perfect'. But that's what it takes to get to the top in this game - in any game - doing things right, and at the right time.

The only time he lost his cool with me was when I grabbed the ball from him for a penalty against Liverpool at Reading. As I pointed out at the time, and several times since, he had missed a few before that game and I did score. But I admit I was being a pain. I still don't think he has forgiven me!

Kevin always wanted to improve. After we were promoted at Reading, we spent that summer pushing cars in a field to get super-fit for the Premier League. I would tell the whole world just to get inside their heads. Kevin wouldn't say a word about it but just went about his work quietly. I think that's why we have always got on so well together. Opposites attract, they say.

He isn't the sort of ex-player who will bore you with how good he was and what he achieved in the game. That will have to come from people like me. Kevin Doyle was a brave, old-fashioned centre forward who knew how to lead the line. He probably did most of Robbie Keane's running selflessly and went about his business quietly and efficiently. He'll be the same in retirement, I am sure.

We lived together for a while in Reading city centre and had a set routine, so that we would be back in bed by 8.0 every night, no distractions, just getting on with our jobs. As we progressed, got older and had families we have seen each other grow up and we still have the same places near Reading.

It seems strange now that he's retired but I am quite glad that someone from my generation, and an old pal, is joining me in retirement. The fact we've shared so many memories will make it extra special when we play golf together. I don't think we will dwell on the past though, we'll just be competing to beat each other on the golf course.

Once you have kids, your priorities change and the family comes first. If there is the slightest doubt that he is putting his health at risk, of course he had to retire. It is a shame but it is wise. It is typical Kevin - the right thing at the right time.

The cause of Kevin's retirement is something the game needs to take note of. Concussion, and its implications, is now a serious issue across the sporting landscape, particularly in contact sports like ours.

What I would say is that they appear to be ahead of the game on these issues in America and when it comes to injuries and sports science. I would worry about this side of the world and what is coming down the track. But I am glad that Kevin has got out at the right time.

Sunday Indo Sport

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