John Hume one of the heroes of Irish history says former Republic manager Brian Kerr

John Hume was "one of the heroes of Irish history" for former Republic manager Brian Kerr
Andy Watters

FORMER Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr said he’d had a “shiver of upset” when he heard the news that civil rights campaigner, SDLP leader and peacemaker John Hume had passed away.

Belfast-born Kerr described Hume as “one of the heroes of Irish history”. He recalled how he’d listened intently to the announcement of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement while on duty with the Republic of Ireland youth team in Portugal in 1998.

Kerr’s youngsters, including future senior stars like Robbie Keane and Richard Dunne, won the tournament and went on to beat Germany in the final of the European U18 Championships later that summer, but the news of peace back home meant every bit as much to him.

“I had lots of good days in football but one of the really good ones was on Good Friday in '98,” he said.

“We were on the verge of winning the tournament which we did the next morning and I was in rather good form because it was the first international tournament I was involved in and winning.

“That year we went on to win four European tournaments in four different countries – In Scotland, Cyprus, that one in Portugal and later in Iceland – with different teams. That was a team that produced the most international players ever from an underage side.

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“In some ways for me the achievement of winning the thing was magnified by the brilliance of the day and the joy around that whole agreement being signed and what it meant. I had a longwave radio with me that I bought in 1997 hoping that I could keep in touch in the world and it was very handy when we were travelling and playing in those tournaments.

“I remember listening to the BBC News on the radio as that developed. He (John Hume) was a big man in every way as far as I was concerned. He had a big handshake and a welcoming vibe off him to a football person. That's what I got when I met him in the tea room in Derry when I went to a few games.”

Kerr had the chance to meet Hume during his time as boss of St Patrick’s Athletic side (1986 to 1996) when Hume was a regular in the stands at the Brandywell.

“I got a shiver of upset that he was gone because he's been such an influential person through my lifetime,” said Kerr, now a popular pundit on Virgin’s football coverage.

“I've been reading about him and admiring him, admiring the stands he took in the most difficult conflict, the closest conflict to me, to my family, over my lifetime.

“He was such a beacon of hope and good sense and practicality and decency in those most horrible of times.

“When I saw him in recent years at Derry City games, which I did anytime I was up, I kind of felt sad that he had dedicated his life so much to dealing with that at the expense of so many other things in his life that he probably neglected.

“But yet his love for sport was there enough to continue going to Derry City. As a man, his health deteriorated earlier than maybe it should because of the challenges that he took on board and the conviction of his beliefs of how society in Ireland should be and society in Northern Ireland should be and, you know, he is without doubt one of the heroes and history in the future will hopefully put him up as one of the heroes of Irish history.”

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