Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland player McCourt learned wife was battling brain tumour just days before Euro 2016 squad unveiled

Star tells how he shielded kids from news and how his beloved partner is on the mend

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland football star Paddy McCourt has told of his heartache at seeing his beloved wife battling a brain tumour - and how they had to hide her illness from their young children.

The former Celtic player had hoped to be in Michael O'Neill's squad for the Euros in France, but he stepped away from the game after Laura's devastating diagnosis.

The Londonderry man has spoken for the first time about walking away from football to support his wife as she prepared for what is understood to have been a successful operation.

The 32-year-old winger's revelations come after Laura had a cancerous tumour removed the day before the tournament began earlier this month.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Paddy said the news of Laura's ill-health came as a devastating blow from which they shielded seven-year-old Luke and Cora, who celebrated her 10th birthday yesterday.

"It's one of those situations... you see it happening to other people, you don't expect it to land at your own front door, and when it does it takes you a couple of days to come round from the shock of it," he added.

"We got the initial bad news a few months ago, but we have been very fortunate since then and everything has been really positive.

"Laura is doing really well and my main priority has been Laura and our kids. Nothing prepares you for something like this. Nothing.

"The operation 10 days ago went as well as it possibly could do and Laura is just recovering at the minute.

"That's a process in itself that we're going through and, thankfully, touch wood, so far it has been going well."

The Northern Ireland international - who hopes to move home to the Maiden City within weeks - said his son and daughter were happy now their mother is on the mend.

"To be honest, they only know what they have to know," he added. "We've kept it a bit of a secret about what it actually is from them. They knew mammy wasn't too well and that was it really."

Paddy also recalled the terrifying moments he spent at the airport immediately after learning that Laura had collapsed following a flight from Marbella to London.

"I was waiting for her in arrivals," he said. The flight landed at Gatwick and was taxiing to the airport when she had a seizure on the bus. Paramedics were called to the scene and they rang to ask me if she was epileptic or anything like that.

"I said she wasn't and they told me they were going to send her to East Surrey Hospital. Obviously, I was very concerned."

The former Derry City player said that within 48 hours, Laura had been diagnosed with a brain tumour that required urgent surgery.

"We were told that the tumour was benign, but that it was growing and it had caused these seizures and it was a real worry," he explained.

"They said they could operate to remove it and we agreed it was definitely the right thing to do. The date they came back with was June 9 (the day before the Euros began)."

McCourt said his club, Luton Town, released him from his contract last month so he could be with his family in the run-up to Laura's operation.

He hopes the decision to move back to Northern Ireland on a permanent basis next month will aid her recuperation.

"We're not back in Derry yet - we won't be until the middle or end of July, after the kids finish school - but it'll be good to be home," he said.

"I won't say for good because you don't know what will happen in the future, but I think it's important for the next couple of years at least that we're home and we've got our family around us for a bit of support that we'll both need in the coming months."

McCourt, a cult hero for his solo goals, said he called Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, who was going to be naming his squad for the tournament, to tell him about Laura's tumour. Although he could not take a place on the team for granted, he had featured in every squad during the qualifying campaign and looked likely to make the final cut.

"I wasn't guaranteed to go," he said. "I would have been one of seven or eight competing for four or five places, but I know that I would have had a good chance of going.

He admitted that despite his absence from the team in France, he had been able to enjoy its performances - and he will be cheering the lads on against Germany this evening.

"It has been good watching it, especially after the second game (when Northern Ireland beat Ukraine 2-0)," Paddy said.

"I spoke to some of the lads after the first game (they lost 1-0 to Poland) and they were a bit down - not about the result because Poland is a good side, but because they didn't feel they had done themselves justice.

"The Ukraine game was more like the performance they've been putting in consistently for the last 18 months and that result was huge because it gave everyone belief and hope for the Germany game. If we put in another good performance you never know what could happen.

"I wish I was playing but it wasn't meant to be, so, like everyone else, I'll be watching as a fan and hoping and praying they can get the right result."

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