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I wouldn't want a child's death on my shoulders, says GAA hero as he helps lead defibrillator drive

Derry’s Kevin McCloy tells of his recovery from a heart attack and his life after sport

By Declan Bogue

Published 23/01/2016

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th January 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 20th January 2016 - Photo by William Cherry
In action for his club Lavey
Supporting the Cormac Trust
Lifting the Dr McKenna Cup for Derry in 2011

When you ask Kevin McCloy about his inbuilt defibrillator, he tells you to touch it. No time to be squeamish. You reach out, touch him on the breastplate, and there it is. A protrusion the size of a matchbox, there to keep him alive after the events of a Wednesday in Owenbeg in 2014 when he was lost to the world before being revived.

A defibrillator got his heart going, and another resides inside him, where surgeons scraped out a packet of muscle to house it. Two leads travel down through a vein into two chambers of the heart. Should it stop, a power surge is poised to give it a shock. At night when he sleeps a modem beside his bed downloads his heart readings, sending them to a hospital.

That night in Owenbeg his Lavey Gaelic football side were playing Magherafelt in the Derry Championship.

He'd never felt fitter.But early on he dropped on the spot. Panic spread around the stadium and three doctors revived him.

By the time the word got back to his wife Cathy she had gone through the mangle of Chinese whispers. She heard he had taken an asthma attack.

"Mine was more of a mechanical or electrical failure from your head to your heart," he explained. "That night, your heart would be up to 130, 140bpm (playing a match). Mine started racing up to 200 and it caused the heart to shake rather than pump. The blood stops going to your brain and you go unconscious."

It was touch-and-go. His mother Marie had been through tragedy before, with Kevin's father Michael dying of cancer at 28. Kevin, the youngest of four, was three months old.

"The first four weeks were a bit of a whirlwind," he said. "I spent a lot of time sleeping for the first three or four days. Then I was put into an induced coma.

"There was the madness of: 'Why me, why has this happened to me?' Any person I saw walking around the hospital overweight or anything like that, I thought: 'Why not him, why me?'

"You are nearly grieving a death. I didn't know where I was at. It wasn't until I had a realisation of coming back to work in January that everything fell back into place. You realise that: 'This is life'."

His county days began with hurling for Derry. He was lucky to play in a golden age for the Oak Leafers as they ended 92 years without an Ulster title, beating Antrim in the 2000 final, McCloy at wing-forward.

Before long Eamonn Coleman came calling for football. Kevin's most recognisable moment came in 2007 - the year he won an All-Star - in the All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Dublin when he rattled Croke Park with a shoulder on Mark Vaughan.

"I couldn't have caught him better, but it cost me a year-and-a-half of my football career," he explained. "All the muscles from my shoulder, right into my groin, diagonally across... the way we hit each other coming from two directions at top speed tore the muscles across my chest."

Physical pain is one thing. Emotional pain, like in the hospital, is another. Little moments helped him get through it. A local girl, Edel Henry, compiled the nice things people wrote about him on social media and gave him a book of them.

Returning to work in January 2015, at first a three-day week, brought normality. Last summer he cut the cord with football.

"The lads and the management of Lavey asked me if I'd like to come back on board, even just to be along the line or in the dressing room," he recalled.

"Let's say last year I found it very hard to be there. The first time they walked out past me to play Slaughtneil, it nearly took the feet from me to pat every man on the back."

Life is about other things now: his job and his family. His children Michael (4), Cassie (3) and Cillian (four months).

There is the Cormac Trust work, born out of the death of Tyrone star Cormac McAnallen. His family continue to spread awareness of and need for defibrillators. Next month he will be appointed as a trustee.

This month he was in Stormont with the trust, lobbying Education Minister John O'Dowd to put more defibrillators in schools and introduce wider training.

Kevin said: "There wouldn't be many defibrillators around Gaelic pitches only for the work the trust has done. Nearly all pitches have it now because of the awareness the trust brought about. If any club hasn't one, they are kidding themselves.

"Imagine, for all the price of it and what it takes to run a club, for £1,000 to buy one? If a youngster dropped, I wouldn't like that on my shoulders." As he pointed out: "I would maintain that without the three trained doctors there on the night, I would have been a statistic.

"I realised the three kids are more important than football.

"It is only this year that I have begun to realise how much time I spent at the football field. It was my life. I played 17 years in a Lavey jersey and 11 years for Derry. And how much time did I not spend with my wife and family? But that comes with a certain love for the game."

And was it worth it?

"Oh aye. I think the camaraderie, the friends that you have met, it's worth it. No regrets."

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