Steven Hunt speaks to The Hedild

Hunt for success

Stephen Hunt talks to Eamon Carr about Giovanni Trapattoni’s impact, colliding with Petr Cech and being back playing in the Championship

Thursday September 25 2008

“We are going to kill you.” People who had never heard of Reading’s Irish midfielder Stephen Hunt sat up and took notice when reports of the death threats filtered out. The police were on the case.

Hunt, who’d represented Waterford in hurling at under-16 level before he went to England as a trainee footballer, was at the centre of a headline-grabbing controversy.

It was two years ago when he collided with Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech, who suffered a depressed fracture of the skull. Jose Mourinho insisted his keeper “was lucky to be alive.”

The young Irish player took a lot of flak. But it didn’t impinge on his combative, livewire style of play. Four months later, in February '07, he made his senior international debut as a substitue in the away match against San Marino.

Although occupying injured Damien Duff’s place in recent Ireland World Cup qualifiers, the 27-year-old is still with Reading. Back playing in the Championship.

The man’s a model pro. Yesterday he joined Dublin star Alan Brogan and former Irish Olympian Eamonn Coghlan to launch the Mars Work-Rest-Play survey that offers insights, some serious and some jokey, into how thirty athletes balance their sporting and social lives.

Despite being worried about a head cold he’d picked up and striving to shake off, Stephen found time to shoot the breeze and marvel at the accomplishments of both Brian Cody and Mickey Harte.

The Reading man may have left hurling behind but he’s not averse to picking up some useful training and conditioning tips from the players of Waterford and Kilkenny.

EC: So how’s life treating you back in the Championship?

SH: There’s no time to play. There are so many games. It’s game, game, game. Recovery, recovery, recovery. That’s what it’s been like. It’s tough going. The level of competition is not as high (as in the Premier League) but the intensity is a lot more in terms of games.

You’re playing Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday. When you’re playing in the Premier League it feels like a show. You feel like you’re going to the theatre. It’s an event. It’s a build-up. Whereas with the Championship it’s go, go, go. It’s a different atmosphere. It’s more like going into the office than going to the theatre. You have to grind it out to get the wins on the board. The desire to win games in this league has to be greater than the team you’re playing against. Otherwise you lose. Because there’s no Ronaldo or other players who will make a big difference. I believe I have the ability to play in the Premier League but at the same time you have to have the desire and the mental attitude to win the game otherwise you won’t win them. That’s for sure.

EC: Reading’s away form is poor, although it’s early in the season.

SH: You’re right. It’s very bad. We’re five points behind Birmingham and eight behind Wolves. When we got promoted we went to the top of that table very early. We got a lead up and by Christmas we were promoted.

We didn’t say it but it would have been a hell of a mess up if we didn’t. So from now to Christmas it’s vitally important that we get going and get on top of that leaderboard. When teams came to Madejski they were already beaten 3 or 4 nil before they even started. Our home form has been good this season but our away form has to pick up too.

EC: The Championship seems tougher. Players’ tackles might be a bit late. Or would Premier League players be sharper and cuter about getting stuck in?

SH: You can look after yourself in terms of tackles and stuff like that but if someone wants to do you then they can do you. The Championship is competitive though. There’s a fair amount of tackles flying around. But in the Premier League you have to be sharper. You might be going to a tackle and they might just run around you so… ha ha… if you try to get close to somebody in the Premier League you have to work your feet. You can’t afford to dive in. People do tackle a lot more in this division but I wouldn’t say it’s brutal to be honest.

EC: You seem to have a good relationship, if that’s the right word, with Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni.

SH: His body language has rubbed off on people. When we see him come into a room everyone think he looks confident. When he speaks, whether it’s in German, Italian or English, he has a demeanour that says he has a winning habit. It’s beginning to rub off on the players.

Hopefully the players can improve because, at the end of the day, it’s all about us. If we can get that as a group, then great.

EC: In the two competitive outings the team has had a good purposeful shape about it.

SH: It’s structured to win games. I don’t think anyone will complain if we qualify for the World Cup with a team that’s structured.

Hopefully the passion will generate in the next home games to create a buzz leading up to the important games near the end. Hopefully it will get us a win like when McAteer scored against Holland. The atmosphere in the ground that day, from watching it on TV that day you could sense it. That’s what you want to have.

EC: You’re central to the TV pundits’ debate on whether you or Andy Reid might serve the Irish cause best. It’s Trapattoni who makes the call. But how do you reckon Andy Reid feels?

SH: They love their debate don’t they. Ha ha. You’d have to ask the manager what position he sees Andy Reid playing in. They obviously have their chit chat about me giving away the ball and then winning it back. But it’s one of them things where your friends tell you what

they say but you obviously can’t control that. It’s great to get the praise but you know you’re going to get stick. It’s just part and parcel of the game.

[B]EC: Stephen Ireland is playing very well for his club. What are the chances of him rejoining the national squad under Trapattoni?

SH: If he comes back to Ireland then it will only add extra competition for the squad. He’s let us down a bit but he’ll be welcomed back once he wants to be there. That’s the most important thing. If he wants to be there then fair enough. But if he doesn’t want to be there, then, ‘Sod you.’ If you don’t want to be there then there’s nothing you can do. We can’t drag him along. He’s on fire at the moment. He’s playing very well, having seen the game last week.

He’s always had that ability. But he needs to have the right attitude.

The way Irish people are, if you give a hundred percent then they’re generally okay with you. They never really have a go at you. So if he comes back all guns blazin’ then he’ll be welcomed back. No doubt about it. If Ronaldo can get welcomed back to Man United after what he said and done during the summer, then Stephen Ireland can play for Ireland again. That’s for sure. Not a bother, like. The reception Ronaldo got from the United fans says it all. They want to see you playing for that shirt and they’re greedy when it comes to it. No matter what kind of person you are or things like that. [/B]
EC: Over the years there’s been a handful of players who found themselves the centre of controversy. People like Beckham, Ronaldo, Rooney even. In your case there doesn’t seem to be any damaging legacy from the Petr Cech incident, which you handled well.

SH: I think it’s dead and buried. Dealing with the situation at the time made me a lot stronger. The club did well for me as well. They told me to say the right things at the time and they dealt with it the way they wanted to deal with it. Thankfully he was okay. He played a big part in the thing dying down. It was a big thing at the time but he killed it quicker by not saying too much about me. It was only other people who were saying it. Petr Cech was spot on.

EC: You didn’t allow it to mess up your game. That controversy could have destroyed the career of some players.

SH: I didn’t have a choice. It was my first Premiership start. You either sink or swim at that level. It had the capability of affecting my play. The manager helped me as well. Straight away, he played me in the next game, which needed to happen. He played me for a couple of games and then he left me out. He left me out for a game against Portsmouth and said, “Take a little step back now.” I was flying after that. He dealt with the situation perfectly and the club did well for me.

EC: What aspects of your game are you working on now?

SH: I have a goals tally and targets for the season. What I want to achieve personally. That’s played a big part in the last couple of years. Setting new goals and trying to achieve things. Obviously relegation wasn’t part of the plan. To be honest, my heart was set on a move before the (transfer) window went. I have no choice now so you get your head down and set new goals again. One of them would be to try to keep my standard as high as I can and to play as well as I can and to be as ruthless as I can to the opposition. Don’t let my performance drop.

EC: You seem to have a huge engine and a great appetite for action.

SH: My athletic performance on the pitch is a part of my game that I know has to be right for me. I would say that my delivery of set pieces has been spot on apart from the Montenegro game. I think we got six goals from my crosses in terms of corners and crosses. In the Montenegro game I was disappointed with my delivery. And it was a game that happened to be for Ireland unfortunately and everybody happened to be looking.

EC: You appear to always have a very positive attitude. Do you work with a sports psychologist?

SH: I have a sports psychologist. It gives you extra. That means I can sometimes get something that will help me along the line. The debate on TV makes me laugh. Sometimes you hear it from your friends and you think, "It’s a bit of banter for TV. But they’ve played the game so they obviously know what the story is.

But one thing I would say is that I analyse my own performance. I watch my own videos and I know what I’ve done wrong and what I can improve on. And what the manager wants me to do is the most important thing. How he wants me to play.

Which is vital. If he’s happy with me then I’m happy. It’s great to get praise but you get banter everywhere. You get your friends saying, “Oh I had a fight with this guy who said you shouldn’t be playing and I said you should be playing.” I’m like, “Don’t get involved. Let it go.”

He really is a nutter.

I’d say himself and Stephen Ireland dont really get on somehow!

[quote=“Mac”]He really is a nutter.

I’d say himself and Stephen Ireland dont really get on somehow![/quote]

A bit like Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens. Two idealist intellectuals with very different views on the importance of international representation.

Brilliant, just brilliant…

Emmmm, yeah

Peter Cech retiring.