IT ALL started with what seemed like a simple sore throat, but this week Raymond Foy heard the news he feared: His football career is over.
Foy, who was Finn Harps’ player of the year in 2015, had a consultation with a heart specialist from Dublin.
A bicuspid aortic valve and dilated ascending aorta means that Foy has had to hang up his boots.
It’s just under a year now since he felt a sore throat. Covid-19 had just come into the atmosphere and Foy, a schoolteacher in Derry, panicked.
As things transpired, a small hernia in his stomach was the cause of the tickle in his throat.
Deeper, though, an issued lurked that might have had grave consequences.
In 2013, while on the books of Derry City, Dr Joe McEvoy detected a heart murmur.
“The last time my heart was checked when I was in with Derry,” Foy said.
“Even at Harps, I had a medical – but that was just a meeting with a doctor it was a one-in, one-out job. I was told at the time that I was alright and I didn’t panic. I was able to play away and just minded myself.
“At the start of lockdown, I got the sore throat and went to get it checked out. At that stage, I was running 5ks in 19 or 20 minutes. I was motoring along rightly, but I was in and out to the doctor.
“I had an ECG done and she found an irregular heartbeat. That is normal enough for a sportsperson but, just in case, she recommended that I get it checked out.
“I paid to go privately in Belfast at first, just to get it seen to.”
Foy’s aortic valve is dilating – a one in 5,000 case. He could play on but were the valve to rupture – which it will at some stage, without surgery – the result may well be fatal.
“Imagine if I was away playing somewhere remote in the Donegal League with Castlefin…”
A combative midfielder, Foy was brought back to Harps in 2015 by Ollie Horgan.
The year is best remembered for BJ Banda’s last-gasp goal against Limerick to seal promotion.
Foy was Harps’ Player of the Year that season, but left midway through the following campaign after playing a bit-part role on the return to the top flight.
He has worn the Irish green at underage level and at the World Student Games in Russia eight years ago.
Football has been his life.
He said: “My first question to the surgeon was if I could play football again and the next question was about how long I could live – that’s where my priorities were.
“He said that I mightn’t live my normal life, but I would live a normal life.
“I though that maybe I could play Donegal League, but contact sport is out of bounds. It’s just not worth the risk. Even a bang on the head with taking Warfarin isn’t worth the risks involved.
“The aortic valve will rupture at some stage. I need the operation inside a year and I’m aiming to get it done now in the next six months. I’ll get some running done before I get the surgery so I’m better ready for it.”
Foy returned to his native Castlefin Celtic and they won the Donegal League Premier Division title in 2019.
His plan now is to follow up on on coaching badges.
He said: I’ve made peace with the fact that I can’t play again. I still have a bite for football, of course I do.
“I’ll continue my teaching and possibly lecturing.
“Now, in my spare time rather than playing I’ll work on advancing my coaching career.
“I want to push my coaching as much as I pushed my playing and maybe getting into it early could be a benefit. I couldn’t walk away from football completely. It might hit a wee bit harder when the messages about getting back to training go into the WhatsApp group.”
The competitor in him would’ve played on – something he feels should serve as a warning to other young sportspeople who don’t quite feel themselves for a period of time.
He said: “It was only for the fact that I went to get the sore throat looked at that I am getting this sorted.
“I would definitely have played on so this is a saving grace for sure. I found last year one day I went to run 3k around Ballybofey, my energy stopped. That’s when I went for a double check.
“The thing is, that day I felt that I could have gone and ran again. I just put that down to having run for seven or eight days in a row.
“If I went for a run now, I’d get a bit breathless. I put a wee bit of that down to the heart, but also I haven’t done anything. I’ll build myself up on fitness before my surgery.
“I’m one of the lucky ones to get a chance.”Tags: