Former Republic of Ireland star Kevin Sheedy fighting fit again after battle with bowel cancer
Kevin Sheedy seems a fitting choice of guest for the Football Association when England host the Republic of Ireland on Wednesday night.
It was, after all, the then Ireland midfielder who flashed a shot past Peter Shilton in the nation's highest-profile encounter of all, on a rainy night in Sardinia in their opening game at the 1990 World Cup.
Doubtless Sheedy will be asked before the match to recall his historic equaliser in that 1-1 draw – Ireland's first World Cup goal – 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, this country's second biggest cancer killer.
And when Sheedy 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 Under-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 90 per cent 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.
"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. 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 in 46 internationals. He had been a late substitute when Jack Charlton's men beat England at the 1988 European Championship; at Italia 90, both teams met in their first match. "It wasn't like a normal international, it was like a derby game," he remembers. "Gary Lineker scored early on. It was scrappy and there were few opportunities."
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 we got beaten 1-0."
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 putting balls 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 whom 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 does the unexpected."
If Coleman has earned overdue international recognition of late, Sheedy reckons the same goes for club-mate Leighton Baines – "better than Ashley Cole now" – and a player whose set-piece deliveries are "probably as close as I've seen to what I used to be able to do." Coming from the man whose famed left foot got the better of Peter Shilton, that is praise indeed.
For more information on the Bobby Moore Fund, go to: www.bobbymoorefund.org
'Big Dunc can do job at Everton'
Kevin Sheedy suggests the timing of David Moyes's exit from Everton has "put the club on the back foot a little bit" but believes they need look no further than their own coaching ranks for his successor.
Under-21 coaches Alan Stubbs and David Weir have both been widely mentioned as possible candidates, but Sheedy insists Duncan Ferguson, the former Everton striker who has spent the past season as Sheedy's assistant coach with the Under-18s, could also do the job.
The reincarnation of "Duncan Disorderly" as a coach of real promise may surprise some, but Sheedy says: "He's passionate and knows the club inside out. A few people doubted [him] but he is doing his Pro licence and has got a bug for the game."
Belfast Telegraph Digital