The quickest glance at Cyrus Christie’s social media feed tells you that the Ireland defender has athletic interests outside his own discipline.
There are photos and with them fulsome praise for Anthony Joshua, LeBron James, Conor McGregor and more besides. But as he faces into a potentially career-shaping few months, iconic inspiration is found much closer to home.
Errol Christie is a former all-conquering amateur boxer who dominated Europe, a wildly hyped professional prospect who worked under Emanuel Steward at Kronk Gym, sparred Tommy Hearns and once knocked Chris Eubank’s tooth out in training. In retirement, he wrote a memoir that was labelled a cultural touchstone titled No Place to Hide: How I put the Black in the Union Jack.
But Cyrus Christie’s beloved uncle is now locked in the final rounds of a bout even he can’t win.
“He’s got over 100 tumours in his body. No one has survived that long with what he’s got, they’ve said. The tumours are that strong they’re pushing through his body,” Christie says of his uncle’s small-cell lung cancer fight.
“I went down to visit him because obviously he’s only got a while left and he could pass while I’m away with the national team. It could have been the last time I see him. He said he can’t fight anymore, it’s too much for him now. That’s the first time I’ve heard anything negative coming from his mouth. His career was phenomenal and there were some records that can’t be beaten because they’ve taken away the titles.
“He’s paved the way for our generation to do what we are doing, the struggles and the trials and tribulations he came through were fantastic and it gives you the courage to carry on and come through adversity.”
Christie is acutely aware that his struggles this term at Pride Park don’t even qualify for comparison with the battles his uncle faces.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that this wasn’t his season. Injuries interrupted the early part. Then new manager Gary Rowett came in and largely preferred veteran Chris Baird on the right side of defence, leaving Christie primarily on the bench for the final part of the campaign. His struggles couldn’t have come at a worse time. His country needs him.
When Seamus Coleman was sickeningly felled by Wales’ Neil Taylor in a World Cup qualifier in March, Christie sprung from the bench.
Now as the campaign comes closer to its crux — Sunday’s Dublin date with Austria could be particularly pivotal — Christie is Martin O’Neill’s go-to guy. The 24-year-old was scheduled to line up as a right wing back in O’Neill’s new-look 3-5-2 formation against Mexico at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium in the early hours of this morning.
With five qualifiers still to come and ongoing uncertainty over Coleman’s return date, this is Christie’s time to shine.
“I back my ability always,” he says. “Seamus is a fantastic player. I’ve touched on it many a time about how a fantastic player he is and how he’ll be a big miss. Seamus is injured now. For me, I need to step up and kind of do it for him too.
“He’s backing me and fills me with confidence. Everyone here, the manager, staff and players give me confidence to go out and do what I do.
“With Seamus, we’re similar in some ways and different in others. I just want to go out and play my game. Hopefully I can fill his boots.”
When Ireland return home this afternoon, preparations will ramp up even further for the Austrian arrival. Uruguay provide room for another tune-up at Lansdowne Road on Sunday.
Coleman is then expected to join the camp at some stage next week, the skipper joining O’Neill and Roy Keane on the sidelines at team training. All in all these two weeks provide Christie with opportunities — to finish a tough season on a high note and perhaps in the process help puts get a clearer outlook in his club career.
“I know what I’m capable of,” says the Coventry-born right back, who was in line to win his ninth Ireland camp overnight. “I feel that I’m one of the best full backs in that league and on my day I think I am the best in the league.
“For me it’s about playing my game and sticking to it and adapting to what the manager says. I’ll come here and play the games, hopefully play the games and do well and put thoughts in his mind but the manager knows what I’m capable of.”
Listen to a preview of the Champions League final with European football writer Paul Little of the Daily Star and backpagefootball.com, Spanish-based football writer Dermot Corrigan and Italian football journalist Emanuele Giulianelli. Presented by Peter McNamara and Larry Ryan of the Irish Examiner.
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