'It hurt me for years' - Stephen Hunt on the lowest point of his Ireland career
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"It killed me really, emotionally. I was worse than Paul Gascoigne in the dressing room."
On the latest episode of the House of Football podcast, Stephen Hunt spoke with great honesty about the lowest point of his career, when he didn't play a minute at Euro 2012.
Hunt had been a key player for the Republic of Ireland for Giovanni Trapattoni in the years preceding the tournament. The former Reading, Hull City and Wolverhampton Wanderers winger earned 39 caps for the national team and scored one goal.
However, he suffered a hip injury ahead of Euro 2012.
Trapattoni promised him that he would get some playing time in Ireland's final group game. But the Italian coach did not substitute Hunt into the game, and the Waterford native was devastated.
Hunt also believes that his efforts to get fit for the tournament ultimately cost him two or three years of his career.
Stephen Hunt on his Euro 2012 heartbreak.
"I did my hip and groin four months before the tournament started," Hunt said.
"I really battled emotionally to get fit, because I knew I'd go. James (McClean) was going like a steam train, playing every week, coming on, and having the impact that I was having as a player.
"So, I was really struggling to get into the squad, to get game time, I knew my body wasn't right. I ended up having groin surgery to try to get it right. I still went anyway, Trap took me."
Hunt believes that, with the benefit of hindsight, he should not have worked as hard as he did in an attempt to get fit for the tournament.
He delayed having surgery until after Euro 2012 and never played again for Ireland.
"Looking at now, I probably shouldn't have gone myself, it probably cost me two or three years of my career," Hunt said.
"I waited four or five months and didn't have the operation until September so that was six months.
"I pretty much had Andy Murray's hip, something similar to that, bone shaved off, not as severe as that his, but six or seven months (out). I lost two seasons and fitness and the edge to get fit for it, just in my desire to play in the Euros."
Hunt also spoke about his experience at the tournament. Ireland lost all three matches in an extremely difficult group and only scored one goal.
Trapattoni's team lost to Croatia, Italy and Spain, three European heavyweights, in what was a tournament too far for many of Ireland's star players.
Hunt also experienced personal disappointment when he didn't get to play a minute at the tournament. Trapattoni promised to bring him on in the final game, but it never happened.
He still holds his former coach in the highest esteem, however.
"The results were terrible, but Trap had said to me that I was going to play, start or come on in the last game," the former Reading winger said.
"He said that to me the night before. I think the biggest regret was being injured, and not being able to show my skill set and how I wanted to play.
"He knew I was good around the place, and had probably been one of his top three most consistent players over a period of time, for his era.
"I love him to bits, how he was, how he treated me, but he let me down for that. Not so much him, the whole build-up, wanting to play in a major tournament, having behaved how I behaved, acted how I acted to get into the squad."
Alan Cawley was a guest on the show alongside Hunt and asked him did Trapattoni speak to him after not bringing him on in the game.
Hunt: Trapattoni apologised for Euros snub.
"No, he apologised and said how important I would be for the next campaign," Hunt said.
"He didn't realise I would be injured for the next 18 months and never play for Ireland again.
"It hurt me for years. I probably only got over the last few years. I've kind of refocused my own brain to focus on certain things regarding football and my love for football.
"It killed me really, emotionally. I was worse than Paul Gascoigne in the dressing room. The boys were looking going, 'What the hell?!'
"But the emotion of wanting to play in a big tournament, the likes of Duffer in Saipan, all those games are through your head, to be a part of that. I'm not the only that felt that way, don't get me wrong. I think because he said it to me the night before, 'You're coming on, you'll be part of this, you deserve to play'.
"I remember Darron Gibson going absolutely ballistic on the sideline, he didn't come on either, he wasn't happy, he was showing his emotion but I was going to show it in public.
"But I think people looked at me though, 'Why was he so upset?' But an awful lot goes into it and it was probably the frustration of not being able to get fit."
Hunt's experience at Euro 2012 is a reminder of the highs and lows of professional football, and the sacrifices that players make to represent their country at the highest level.
You can watch the full episode below.
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