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‘They couldn't get a pulse and apparently I turned blue’: Stephen Kenny opens up on ‘traumatic’ heart scare


Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Pic: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Pic: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

©INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Republic of Ireland manager Stephen Kenny. Pic: INPHO/Laszlo Geczo

Stephen Kenny has revealed that Christian Eriksen's brush with death brought back memories of his lucky escape in Sweden two years ago, with the Ireland manager speaking for the first time about how the quick reaction of FAI staff saved his life.

Kenny suffered a cardiac issue and collapsed in the airport ahead of a flight home following a victory for his U-21 side in September 2019, and was reluctant to disclose details in the aftermath once he recovered.

But in the aftermath of the Eriksen incident, Kenny chose to detail his own experience in an emotional interview with Off The Ball.

He spoke of how his assistant Jim Crawford thought Kenny had died as support staff couldn't get a pulse or heartbeat after his collapse in the terminal.

Kenny also admitted that once he underwent a successful operation to have a pacemaker fitted, he was concerned that wide knowledge of the dramatic episode might have some impact on the succession plan that saw him take over from Mick McCarthy.

"Looking at Christian Eriksen's situation, I got flashbacks and saw the impact it had on the people around me. It was very traumatic, very vivid. Luckily, I had people around me: staff, my colleagues and friends," said Kenny, who explained that U-21 team doctor Ronan Kearney was absent from the trip because of his wedding.

"We had a new doctor in, Mortimer O'Connor from Cork, who stepped up from the under-17s. It was a baptism of fire for Mortimer. He did brilliantly.

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"Keith Andrews, Jim Crawford, Damien Doyle, Colm O'Neill (physio). They were all in the vicinity at the time and trying to address the situation. It was quite an ordeal.

"I wasn't feeling well, and I just collapsed. I've been infrmed since that Damien Doyle [fitness coach] did CPR while the doctor got the defibrillator. The paramedics in the airport were on the scene very quickly.

"All of the players had gone through. It was just a certain number of staff that had stayed with myself because they knew I wasn't well. The players didn't see it because they had gone through, but there was a big scene at the airport.

"It was very, very serious. They couldn't get a pulse or a heartbeat and apparently I turned blue.

"Jim Crawford (now U-21 boss) said to me the following morning 'I'm not going to lie to you Stephen, I thought you were dead, I thought you were gone.'

"All of those staff, I trust them all implicitly. The majority are with me with the senior internationals now. I would trust them all so much.

"We have been through so much, that was a huge moment in all of our lives."

Kenny explained that he had a pacemaker fitted in a procedure that followed an emergency rush to hospital.

The 49-year-old explained that in the aftermath of the Eriksen incident, he rang people who were present to ask how it had impacted on them.

At the time, he was keen to move on from it and get back to work.

"I was concerned because there was this succession plan, but until you are appointed manager then you are never certain about how things are going to go. I think I was concerned...would it stop me being appointed," he explained.

"I didn't need to convince anyone (in the FAI). All the medical people said I was fine. We had an international managers meeting (the following week).

"Mick McCarthy was there with Ruud Dokter and Jim Crawford, Tom Mohan, Colin O'Brien, Jason Donohoe. I came in and they were surprised to see me. I gave an oral presentation, but they were all very supportive, including Mick McCarthy, he was very supportive.

"All of the medical people have said that I'm actually fitter now. The doctor in Sweden said to my wife that she was more likely to have a heart attack on the way to the airport than Stephen is."

Kenny acknowledged that he was lucky that he was struck down in Sweden, given the quality of their healthcare system.

"I went into this theatre, and you are awake in the operation. It is like a big industrial unit. These young Swedish doctors are talking to you while they are putting in the pacemaker.

"It is almost surreal, like an out-of-body experience but it is brilliant, really. It was diagnosed as a congenital issue, my heart skipped a beat. [It does this] very rarely but if it does, the pacemaker catches it. It was an electrical issue with my heart, a block of the electricity your heart needs.

"My heart is really strong now. The pacemaker is terrific, it's inobtrusive, it's very easy to leave it. The only problem I have is going through the airport. You can't go through the scanners so I'm the most searched person (in the airport)."

Kenny admitted that the episode had given him fresh perspective, especially when it came to his family situation.

"Siobhan (his wife) was very strong. She flew out to Sweden straight away. Life ebbs and flows," he said. "I do reflect and realise that I'm very fortunate. I've four children.

"At that time, they would have been 13, 15, 18 and 20. I can't imagine the things I would have missed out on so it's been a blessing for me. I would have missed out on so much over the last couple of years."

Kenny also mounted a passionate defence of his work to date as Ireland manager, and revealed that his contract actually runs until next July.

It's expected that the FAI will reach a decision on his future at the end of this year depending on how Ireland fare in the remainder of World Cup qualifying with the team facing a stiff task following their March defeat to Luxembourg.

But Kenny suggested he was looking forward to being in charge for the March and June windows next year (friendlies in March if Ireland fail to make a World Cup playoff and UEFA Nations League games in June), while stating there hadn't been any negotiations with his employers.

"Some think I've introduced too many (young players), too soon. It's the right thing to do," he said.

"I defy anyone who argues otherwise. We'll be very good now over the next couple of years. I want this to be a team that the Irish public are really proud of and can identify with. We're building a very exciting team with Ireland. I won’t accept that we can’t play from the back or can’t pass the ball. That’s completely lacking faith in the talent that we have, I don’t accept it and it will be proved otherwise.

"My contract is up until July. I'm not focused on that at all. I'm just very focused on the matches. I've had tremendous support from everyone in the FAI."
Kenny also addressed the recent decision to take the knee before the friendly in Hungary, a move which angered local politicians and attracted some negative commentary in these parts.

He tackled the suggestion that the pre-match gesture was in some way a Marxist act, a theory which has fuelled a lot of the opposition in England.

"I've heard criticism for taking the knee because 'you're supporting a Marxist organisation.What is Marxism? Das Kapital is not Mein Kampf is it? Whether you believe or don't believe in it. It's not McCarthyism.

"I don't see it as a political issue, taking the knee. I think it's a humanitarian issue, it's about supporting people. It's nothing to do with politics. That's the way I see it. The booing of taking the knee, I don't understand it. Football represents every strand of society."

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