If Cyrus Christie gets told his biggest obstacle in life is dislodging the best right-back in the Premier League to further his international career, then he’d have every reason to chuckle.
Seamus Coleman’s deputy in the Ireland squad has overcome adversity throughout his life. Whether it was racial tensions in Coventry or trying to make the grade with his hometown club, Christie will take his seat on tomorrow’s flight for France sculpted by his experiences along the journey to the Euros.
The Derby County full-back didn’t have far to search for a role model. Errol Christie became middleweight champion of Europe as an amateur, sparring with the great Muhammad Ali along the way, and to this day, as he battles lung cancer, his professional footballer nephew remains his No 1 fan.
It wasn’t just sporting feats which prompted Cyrus to exalt heroic status on his uncle, instead the dignified manner of facing down the cynics during his ascent, especially racists fuelled by no other agenda aside from the colour his skin.
Should Christie feature at the Euros, and there’s every chance Martin O’Neill will call upon him when either full-back position requires filling, then he’ll be thinking of the lengths his uncle went to in order for personal ambition to be achieved.
“Errol’s was the only black family in the area and he could easily have turned to crime,” explained the 23-year-old, who declared for Ireland in October 2014 through his grandmother.
“He knew what he wanted in life and worked really hard to get where he was. He’s never drank or smoked a day in his life and ate really well. That’s why it’s really weird he has cancer now.
“Errol wrote a book about how he had to fight the National Front. Boxing gave him a way out and he went on to become the youngest-ever Great Britain boxing captain.
“Where I went to school was bang in the middle of two racist areas, full of British National Party people, and there used to be a lot of race wars. It was bad but much worse in my uncle’s time.”
Boxing was a career option for Cyrus as a teen, yet he opted to try his luck at football.
Loan moves from Coventry City to non-league Nuneaton Town and Hinckley United didn’t bode well but he eventually nailed down a place and earned a move to Championship outfit Derby County two years ago.
His Irish connections were still only known to his inner circle at that stage, but a chance meeting between one of O’Neill’s backroom team and a family member set the process in motion for Christie to be ensconced in the camp.
“Steve Guppy’s wife is a good mate of with my cousin’s wife, so that’s how it came about,” he revealed. “I had to be patient and wait for the chance but it’s been brilliant so far.”
His prime springboard to stardom came last October when Coleman’s injury left the right-back slot vacant for the visit of the world champions.
Christie slotted in with aplomb, solidifying a stern rearguard action against Germany on a night Ireland’s Euro hope took off..
“I’ve won five caps now and when really enjoyed every one of them,” he said. “I was coming in to try and prove what a good player I am and put thoughts in the manager’s mind. I think that’s been done each time.
“The manager was very complimentary about me after the Belarus game; I haven’t spoken to Roy about it! Have I avoided that? I’m not too sure.
“I definitely want to play at the Euros. Even if it’s left-back or right-wing as well, I could do a job.
“Because I’ve scored for Ireland and Seamus is still waiting on his first goal, he mentions it every time I play.
“He’s says, ‘oh, don’t score today, you’ll make me look bad’. I think the goal will come for him sooner or later because he gets forward a lot and is capable of scoring like he does for Everton.”
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