Last week is one which Reading’s Noel Hunt will want to forget as soon as possible. Already walking with the aid of crutches after breaking a bone in his foot a few weeks back, the Waterford man suffered another setback 10 days ago. He took the ferry home to Waterford to be present at a family Holy Communion. Having eaten a light lunch while on the high sea, he felt unwell when he eventually made it back to his home in St John’s Park and thought he had a bout of food poisoning. At this stage his car was abandoned in Slieverue following a mishap en route to Waterford. When he got to Waterford he headed for Ozier Park to watch a Youth Cup semi-final but all was not well. Like all good mothers, his mam, Maria, was not at all happy with his well-being and was only too aware that her son was suffering from more than food poisoning as he lay sweating on his bed.
Maria ignored Noel’s plea to wait and see how he felt on the Saturday morning and insisted on calling a doctor to carry out tests on the former Johnville starlet. Her worst fears were realised when the doctor rushed Noel to hospital with suspected appendicitis. Shortly after midnight on Saturday, May 8th, Noel underwent an operation to remove a burst damaged appendix. He had to remain in Waterford Regional Hospital until Thursday of last week.
Thankfully he’s recovered from the surgery but it was a very close call indeed for the recently-capped full Irish international. Noel is nothing if not up-beat about life in general, and that was summed up when he hobbled along on Saturday morning last having enjoyed a surprise birthday party staged to celebrate Maria’s twin sisters’ birthdays the previous night.
“I have had better weeks, but look, that is the way life goes. Things could have been an awful lot worse. A lot of people have had, and indeed have a lot more than me to worry about and I would like to thank everyone at Medical 2 in Waterford Regional Hospital for all their care. I probably drove them mad while I was there, but really they were wonderful.”
Coppell parts company
The injury picked up by Noel in the Coca Cola Championship a few weeks back not only ruled him out of Reading’s push for automatic promotion but also out of the Republic of Ireland games due to be played during the coming weeks.
Last week, Reading lost to Burnley in the two-legged play-off semi-finals, a bitter pill to swallow considering that the Royals were red-hot favourites to win the league until they began to lose confidence when it came to the business end of the season.
Noel admits it was all very hard to take in. “We were the team to beat from the beginning of the season. Steve Coppell had put together a fine side and we were flying but injuries began to kick in after Christmas, though we were still right up there and felt we had what was required to get back into the Premier League.
“Remember we still had a chance of going up as a top-two side until we lost to Birmingham City only a few weeks ago. We cannot have any complaints about losing to Burnley, however, because over the two legs they were the better team. Unfortunately a lot of the players will now move on to other clubs.
“Players like [his brother] Stephen and Kevin [Doyle] and others will be linked to other clubs and more guys have been in touch with me to keep me informed about what is going on. I watched the press conference when the gaffer officially announced that he was leaving the club and I felt sadness because he has been very good to me since I joined Reading… He has also been a very good friend to Stephen and we will miss him.
“When that press conference was over, Steve Coppell sent me a text message wishing me well for the future and I really appreciated that. He told me if ever I needed advice he would always be there for me. That is the kind of man Steve Coppell is. He will be sadly missed at the club,” said Noel.
Football can be a cruel and indeed ruthless game and now Noel has to get his head around working with a new manager and new players at the Madjeski Stadium. “I have two years left on my contract at the club. I head back for a medical tomorrow [Sunday last] and I will return back home the following Thursday before going on holidays.
“Sometimes it is exciting to work with new players and a new manager so I will look forward to that. Missing out on playing for the Republic of Ireland is terrible because I had a great chance of playing in the World Cup game and the friendlies due to the number of players who will be missing for one reason or another.
“I am determined to put all of the bad luck behind me and get back to really good training as quickly as possible. When I get off the crutches and when I fully recover from the operation on my appendicitis I will go all out to play for Ireland and of course for Reading,” beamed a guy who just does not know the meaning of feeling sorry for oneself.
Noel Hunt is quite an extraordinary bloke. When jokingly I put it to him that perhaps Roy Keane might make a move for him to sign for Ipswich Town, Noel laughed loudly, ‘Football is a funny game’. It may be, but football was far from funny for Noel during the past month or so, but have no doubt about it the younger ‘Hunty’ will be smiling for a long time to come. That’s just the kind of person he is.