“Will I be accepted?” Cyrus Christie asked Richard Keogh and Jeff Hendrick about declaring for the Boys in Green when the trio were all plying their trade at Derby County back in 2014.
“Why wouldn’t you be?” they answered.
Unfortunately the anonymous idiots on social media made Christie wonder if he ever would be.
The revelation over the weekend from his Republic of Ireland team-mate James McClean that Christie was brought to tears by social media abuse in the aftermath of the defeat to Denmark in Dublin will anger every right-thinking Irish supporter and rightfully so, but not just for the obvious reasons.
McClean called out the racist element of the abuse (and was praised for doing so by Show Racism The Red Card and the PFAI today) which was reported by the FAI to the Gardai, who will hopefully find and deal with the culprit(s).
However, even the non-racist abuse levelled at the player is hard to stomach considering the character of the man. One thing that would strike any reporter who has attended an FAI press conference when Christie is put in front of the media, is that he is a bloody nice fella.
It is hard to gauge any footballer’s true personality from what you see of them on the pitch, but you can sometimes get a rough idea of a player’s make-up from their interactions with the press.
When thrown questions, Christie thinks about what he is being asked before giving what usually are decent answers and not just something extracted from the footballer’s handbook of cliches.
The post-match mixed zone in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium, where journalists get the chance to nab players for a chat, are notorious for the reason that there’s very little chat and a lot of reporters left hanging over the velvet rope by footballers demonstrating their quick turn of pace to reach the cosy cocoon of the team bus rather than being quizzed on the night’s events.
Not so Cyrus Christie, who would never be seen leaving a reporter in the lurch when asked to stop for a word, and will always face up to qestioning, even if the match result has been a poor one. The same cannot be said of every player in the squad.
As well as all of that, you get the sense he is aware there may be some people out there who might not have fully accepted him because he is not born and bred on these shores. He always seems to choose his words carefully so as not to say the wrong thing, but also to express his genuine dedication to the Irish cause.
In short, the 24-year-old comes across as a very modest, respectful and sensitive lad with impeccable manners.
Christie qualifies for Ireland through his Dublin-born grandmother whom he would come over to visit when she lived in Clontarf and Kildare. She now resides in Coventry where Christie was born, and where he ended up going on to play for the Sky Blues over one-hundred times.
It was there that he was coached by former Irish midfielder Lee Carsley, who converted him from a winger to a full-back before he went on to play for Derby and now Middlesbrough. Anyone who has played football at any level will know that converting to that particular position late in a player’s career is not an easy thing to do.
Take another Irish international in Stephen Ward, for example. The former Bohemians striker became a left-back late on, and he was another good guy who has shipped a fair bit of criticism in the past. But over the last few years, he has developed into a very good defender that we see playing week-in, week-out for a Burnley side that concede very few Premier League goals.
Back to Christie who was left with massive boots to fill following Seamus Coleman’s leg-break last March. The Donegal man is the only name in his squad that Irish boss Martin O’Neill will put together with the words ‘world-class’ in the same sentence.
Granted, in Coleman’s absence performances and results did suffer, but that was down to a myriad of reasons and the blame for which certainly cannot be pinned on just one player. It also must not be forgotten that if Christie’s long range free had not landed on the head of Shane Duffy to score in Georgia, the Boys in Green might not even have got as far as the World Cup play-offs this month.
Christie released a statement on Twitter tonight rightly pointing out that the abhorrent racist comments are not representative of true Irish football supporters, and while social media trolls ideally should not be given the oxygen of publicity, when the abuse is that of a racist nature it must be highlighted, brought to the attention of the authorities and dealt with. It can never, ever be ignored.
The silver lining to this story is how heartening it has been to see a huge outpouring of support for Christie on social media since McClean highlighted the issue, and led by the legend whom the Green Army have most affection for, Paul McGrath.