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Friday 15 November 2019

Treacy: I do have a hunger to play

Former Ireland international is free from pain and keen to resurrect career

Feeling good: Keith Treacy wants to get back into football now that he no longer has crippling back pain
Feeling good: Keith Treacy wants to get back into football now that he no longer has crippling back pain

A terrible mixture of alcohol and depression put out the fire in the belly, and dulled the talent, which had made Dubliner Keith Treacy a Premier League player and an Ireland international at the age of 21.

But now, three years after he walked away from football planning to never play again, the boy from Sheriff Street, still only 30, has rediscovered the drive which had him within sight of greatness.

"I would like to get playing again," says Treacy, capped six times by Giovanni Trapattoni.

"I'd like to get back training and get ready for next season. I am a free agent and I could play now, but maybe it'd be better to have a few months to get myself ready for next season.

"I am only 30 so I could easily play on. I will be two years sober in November so all of the alcohol is gone out of my body. I feel fit and well, I am waking up with the normal aches and pains you get at 30, not the ones I used to have.

"Seeing a chiropractor has got me right again and I am pain free at last," says Treacy, who has been out of the game since he quit St Patrick's Athletic in 2016.

"I am not looking to go back to England or to get back into the Ireland squad, that's ridiculous at my age. I have to be realistic, but I do have a hunger to play.

"I don't feel pain, my back is healing, all the boxes are ticked and the hunger is there because I feel fit, and I am enjoying it. I knew that when the enjoyment came back, so would the hunger."

Still only 30, the peak of Treacy's career was between August 2008 (his Premier League debut with Blackburn) and August 2010 (his Ireland debut, at home to Argentina).

But not long after that first game in the green jersey, there began a slide, due in part to injury and Treacy being forced to play through the pain and being encouraged to avoid badly needed surgery so he could play for his clubs.

He has also had mixed luck with managers. "I was finished early, my career was finished when Eddie Howe was there (Burnley). Sean Dyche resurrected me, Eddie Howe had more or less finished me off," he said.

"When Sean Dyche came in, he lifted me to a level I didn't think I had, but a contract offer fell through and I lost that hunger again."

By January 2015, he was finished with club football in England, the Dubliner returning home just months into a two-year contract with Barnsley, depression and alcohol use taking hold.

A link with family friend John McDonnell lured Treacy back to the game, a move to Drogheda United (August 2015) and there followed a spell with St Patrick's Athletic (2016), but by the midway point of his first season with Pat's that cloud had returned and Treacy walked away, dealing with the physical scars on his body (he is only now getting to the source of a painful back problem) and his mental health.

He's no longer in therapy, though he jokes that he gets a "free session" regularly when he bumps into his therapist while walking his dog.

Imminent

When this reporter met Treacy for an interview late last year, he said he was "probably finished with football at a high level" and had his focus on an imminent new arrival.

That arrival was made flesh and his son Teddy's presence is one of the reasons why Treacy wants to play again.

"My son is only 10 months so he doesn't understand what I do, but I'd like him to be able to see me play, spark something in him maybe," he says.

"I'd have no airs or graces if I went back to play now. I had a bit of an ego the last time I went to play League of Ireland.

"I don't think the League of Ireland saw the best of me when I was playing. I'm not happy with how I did at Pat's, I was still drinking a bit when I was there, I had a couple of games in Europe where I was motivated and I did well but in terms of the league I wasn't motivated and I was poor most of the time.

"So I have a bit to prove to myself: not to anyone else, to myself. I have something within me that wants to show I can play and when I do retire at 35 or so I can say I ticked that box and showed I could play at that level."

Cutting out drink has made Treacy a new man, he feels.

"I probably was an alcoholic," he admits. "I came in at the tail end of that era at Blackburn, that drinking culture. If you lost a game, you had a drink to forget about it. If you won, you had a drink to celebrate. I had a problem with it. I played while drunk, I played while hungover.

"I haven't had a drink in two years. Well, I did have one, I was best man for my brother's wedding so I had a pint with me as I was about to make my speech. It just seemed like the thing to do.

"But I nearly got sick when I had a couple of sips and I knew then that drink was not for me. I haven't touched a drink since.

"If I win a game on a Friday night, I don't want to go out drinking, I want to go home and give my young lad a kiss goodnight. Hopefully, bring him to the games. But I have that hunger."

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