Stephen Hunt

I’m glad Kevin got out at the right time but the man­ner of his exit is a con­cern for the game, says Stephen Hunt

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - FRONT PAGE -

The only time Kevin Doyle lost his cool with me was when I grabbed the ball from him for a penalty. As I pointed out at the time, he had missed a few and I did score.

ON the day I signed for Read­ing, I was in­tro­duced to a young Ir­ish kid called Kevin Doyle. I had been in Eng­land for eight years, whereas he had just joined the club from Cork City after a cou­ple of years in the League of Ire­land.

From day one it was clear he was com­fort­able in that en­vi­ron­ment and that he had the men­tal­ity and abil­ity to suc­ceed. He was able to com­pete in the Cham­pi­onship straight away, bring­ing pace, power, en­thu­si­asm and strength in the air. He was so strong on his left and right foot that some­times you didn’t know which was his weaker one.

That didn’t hap­pen by ac­ci­dent. He had ob­vi­ously worked on his game at Cork and Pat Dolan and Mick Wal­lace de­serve big credit for his pro­gres­sion from the start, and I no­tice he thanked both of them when he an­nounced his re­tire­ment last week.

His men­tal­ity was al­ways very strong. His love of football might have devel­oped over time be­cause he was com­fort­able and happy in Wex­ford be­fore he joined Read­ing, but that was prob­a­bly why he was so level-headed when he ar­rived.

He got in the team be­fore me, even though he was com­pet­ing with Leroy Lita and Dave Kit­son for one of the two start­ing spots up front. It’s re­mark­able to think now that he quickly made him­self the number one choice. His tem­per­a­ment was key at that time. He never got too down and never got too high which was in­cred­i­ble when you re­mem­ber he went from Cork to in­ter­na­tional football within a year and took it all in his stride.

I re­mem­ber stick­ing up for him once on a night out in Wex­ford when some­one started to have a go at him. With my ar­ro­gance and con­fi­dence I thought I could stick up for my friend. Kevin was too po­lite to say a word. I re­mem­ber think­ing at the time he does most things well, off and on the pitch. In fact, I used to call him ‘Peter Per­fect’. But that’s what it takes to get to the top in this game — in any game — do­ing things right, and at the right time.

The only time he lost his cool with me was when I grabbed the ball from him for a penalty against Liver­pool at Read­ing. As I pointed out at the time, and sev­eral times since, he had missed a few be­fore that game and I did score. But I ad­mit I was be­ing a pain. I still don’t think he has for­given me!

Kevin al­ways wanted to im­prove. After we were pro­moted at Read­ing, we spent that sum­mer push­ing cars in a field to get su­per-fit for the Pre­mier League. I would tell the whole world just to get in­side their heads. Kevin wouldn’t say a word about it but just went about his work qui­etly. I think that’s why we have al­ways got on so well to­gether. Op­po­sites at­tract, they say.

He isn’t the sort of ex-player who will bore you with how good he was and what he achieved in the game. That will have to come from peo­ple like me. Kevin Doyle was a brave, old-fashioned centre for­ward who knew how to lead the line. He prob­a­bly did most of Rob­bie Keane’s run­ning self­lessly and went about his business qui­etly and ef­fi­ciently. He’ll be the same in re­tire­ment, I am sure.

We lived to­gether for a while in Read­ing city centre and had a set rou­tine, so that we would be back in bed by 8.0 ev­ery night, no dis­trac­tions, just get­ting on with our jobs. As we pro­gressed, got older and had fam­i­lies we have seen each other grow up and we still have the same places near Read­ing.

It seems strange now that he’s re­tired but I am quite glad that some­one from my gen­er­a­tion, and an old pal, is join­ing me in re­tire­ment. The fact we’ve shared so many mem­o­ries will make it ex­tra spe­cial when we play golf to­gether. I don’t think we will dwell on the past though, we’ll just be com­pet­ing to beat each other on the golf course.

Once you have kids, your pri­or­i­ties change and the fam­ily comes first. If there is the slight­est doubt that he is putting his health at risk, of course he had to re­tire. It is a shame but it is wise. It is typ­i­cal Kevin — the right thing at the right time.

The cause of Kevin’s re­tire­ment is some­thing the game needs to take note of. Con­cus­sion, and its im­pli­ca­tions, is now a se­ri­ous is­sue across the sport­ing land­scape, par­tic­u­larly in con­tact sports like ours.

What I would say is that they ap­pear to be ahead of the game on these is­sues in Amer­ica and when it comes to in­juries and sports sci­ence. I would worry about this side of the world and what is com­ing down the track. But I am glad that Kevin has got out at the right time.

He does most things well. I used to call him ‘Peter Per­fect’

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