Belfast Telegraph

We and NI squad will be thinking of Laura

Editor's Viewpoint

To most people footballer Paddy McCourt had a gilded life. He was playing a sport he loved and was happily married with two young children. He was also hoping to make the Northern Ireland squad for the Euro 2016 finals in France.

But there are no guarantees in life. He was waiting at the airport for his wife to return from a holiday in Marbella when he learned that she had collapsed on the way to the terminal.

Within 48 hours their lives were turned upside down. Laura McCourt was diagnosed with a brain tumour and required urgent surgery.

They are not the first family to face such a trauma, of course, but as Paddy says in his interview in this paper today, no one really expects to face such devastating news - and especially when still young and apparently in the peak of good health.

A phrase first uttered by the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly - some people believe football is a matter of life and death... I can assure you it is much, much more important than that - comes to mind in this context.

Football may have given Paddy a good living, much enjoyment and a measure of fame, but his wife's illness put all of that in perspective. With masterful understatement he says that it took a couple of days to get his head around the diagnosis, but his reaction showed the measure of the man.

He literally walked away from football to support his wife and their two young and somewhat bewildered children. He immediately ruled himself out of selection for the Euros and concentrated on the pressing problem of his wife's surgery. Ironically it was carried out the day before the Euro Championships began.

Thankfully the operation appears to have gone well and Laura is now recuperating.

Life has taken on a completely new challenge for the couple in recent months, showing that Shankly's often quoted remark is so far wide of the mark. Sure, football is a hugely emotional sport and teams are followed with an intense fervour but, ultimately, it is just entertainment. Life, especially at times of illness, can be a very dark reality.

Paddy will be cheering on the Northern Ireland team tonight in their crunch game against Germany. They have the perfect incentive as they take to the field - to win or draw for Paddy and Laura to whom we send our best wishes for a speedy restoration to full health.

Belfast Telegraph

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