Alan Moore had enough.
The former Middlesbrough and Ireland man grabbed his car keys, drove to Holyhead, hopped on a ferry to Dublin and picked up childhood pal David Kennedy.
The pair then made a beeline for Stephen McGuinness’s house on Dublin’s northside, stood in his front garden and warned: “We’re not leaving until you come to the door.”
McGuinness was two months into self-imposed isolation.
During a nine-hour operation at the Mater Hospital to remove a tumour, the team of surgeons led by Dr Jurgen Mulsow decided that, as well as his large intestine, three-quarters of McGuinness’s stomach would also have to go.
The former hardman defender-turned-combative-players’ union boss — battle-hardened by regular rows with the FAI and with clubs that reneged on contractual responsibilities — had never felt more weak or vulnerable.
He wished to stay hidden. But his two pals had other ideas.
“I’d lost just short of 35lbs in weight and I was so afraid of people judging how I looked,” McGuinness told the Irish Daily Star.
“You have this image of yourself being, not indestructible, but you’re a former professional player, you represent professional footballers, there’s a certain way you feel and how you feel people perceive you.
“I didn’t want anybody to see me looking so poorly and sick, so I locked myself away basically for two months.
“But Alan drove over from England and knocked up to the door with David, and wouldn’t go until I came out.”
For McGuinness, it was a milestone in his recovery.
“You sometimes need somebody to grab you and give you a shake, and say, as difficult as things are, we are here to help.
“I’ve been friends with Alan since we were 13 or 14. The same with David. He was my best man.
“People were texting and ringing, but to knock on the door and stand in the garden and say they weren’t going to take no for an answer, I’ll be forever grateful to Alan and David for that day.”
February 1, 2021; a day McGuinness will never forget.
It was a cool, cloudy morning when the former St Patrick’s Athletic, Dundalk and Shamrock Rovers defender received the results of tests that were carried out at his wife Jennifer’s insistence.
Intestinal cancer — and it had spread to his stomach.
He was 47 at the time.
“The warning signs were there and I didn’t react,” he said. “I probably naively said, ‘Ah, I’ll be grand’. It’s a male thing, isn’t it?
“I was feeling a bit tired one day loading a skip. I felt shattered after two minutes and had to sit down. I went, ‘What’s going on here?’. But I never went and got checked.
“After a period of time when I got hot sweats, my wife said I had to get a check-up.
“She works at a doctor’s so she managed to get me in for a blood test straight away. My hemoglobin was 7.2. (Normal levels for a male are between 14-17.5g)
“I was rushed into the Mater and within a couple of days they had diagnosed me with cancer, a tumour in the large intestine.
“Without her pushing me to go, it could have been a hell of a lot worse.
“I’d say I would have limped along for another month or two, if possible. I was in a bad way, but I probably would have kept going.”
The fatigue and sweats weren’t the first signals.
McGuinness explained: “I passed blood one day. I remember it well. I said to myself, that’s the new takeaway, I had food out of it. I swear to God, that’s what I put it down to.
“What the blood was was the cancer bursting from my large intestine into my stomach.
“That happened nine months before I got my diagnosis. If I’d gotten checked at that stage, it would have been keyhole surgery, rather than being opened up from the chest bone down to the top of my groin.
“It took 42 staples to close me back up. If I had acted on the initial signs, it would have been local in the large intestine and keyhole surgery to get it removed.”
McGuinness found some elements post-surgery tougher than others.
“I thought mentally I was very strong,” said the 48-year-old.
“The physical side of it, I was able to deal with. It was the mental side that I struggled with badly.
“The after-effect for me now is that my two thighs are numb and I have pins and needles in my fingers and feet.
“I’ll probably have that for a year or 18 months. That’s from the chemo. But I really struggled mentally.
“Within the association (PFA Ireland) for years we have been giving mental health advice and support, and if I’m being honest, I never really understood it.
“I said to myself, ‘How can that player have mental health issues, they are top of the league, he’s one of the best players, gets paid a lot of money…’
“I now understand it a hell of a lot better, having gone through it myself.
“I am currently taking antidepressants and may be on them for life, depending on how things go.
“I’ve a better understanding of the difficulties people do face regarding mental health. I didn’t really understand it before, but I definitely understand it now.”
The operation has led to some drastic changes in McGuinness’s everyday life.
“The signals from the stomach to the brain broke down, so I went days without feeling hungry,” he explained.
“I relied on an app on my phone that signalled when I had to eat.
“Thankfully all that has knitted itself back and I do feel hungry again. But it has changed how I consume food.
“I can’t eat a big meal now. My stomach can’t take a huge amount of food or drink, because it’s a quarter of what it once was, so I have to eat more frequently. I graze constantly.
“The numbness in the thighs and the feet and hands, I’m hoping, will go away in time. Hopefully I can kick a ball again or play five-a-side by next February or March.
“At the moment I’m walking. I hope to join a gym because I lost a lost of muscle, particularly upper-body.”
Stephen explained the motive behind him talking about his ordeal.
“I’d meet someone and afterwards they’d ring me and say, ‘I didn’t know about the cancer, why didn’t you tell me?’.
“I rang Ollie Horgan and he said, ‘Where have you been for the last year?’. Ronan Finn said, ‘Why didn’t you call?’.
“I don’t like people making a fuss over me, it’s not my scene. But it’s gotten to the point where I need to get it out there.
“I’m back and I’m really looking forward to working with the players again, and working with the clubs and the FAI. I am ready now and I am delighted to be back.
“I want to thank people as well, people like Stephen Kenny, Liam Buckley, Alan Moore; people who were brilliant when I wasn’t well. Stephen was incredible. I played with him at Home Farm going way back.
“Trevor Croly, I probably spoke to him everyday in hospital.
“Lots of people that I didn’t get on with contacted me, including some from the FAI; people I would have had serious issues with. And they would have had issues with me.
“All that fell away when I wasn’t well. Everyone from the president, Gerry McAnaney, to Jonathan Hill to Roy Barrett; they all got in touch.
“Ollie (Cahill) and Simone (Flannery) did a great job running the association while I was out, and Stuart Gilhooly as well. That’s probably why no-one noticed that I was out.
“I won’t forget the people who have been in touch with me over the last period of time — Jonathan Roche at Shamrock Rovers and Stephen Lambert at Bohs.
“You don’t realise maybe the relationships that have been built-up over time and the people who genuinely care about you and your well-being.
“I must mention my mam and my sister (Linda) as well, who were brilliant. And the in-laws as well.
“Even from the treatment side of things, I met up with Stephen McPhail last Saturday and was chatting to him about the treatment he went through.
“It’s good to talk to people like Stephen who has been through his own battle (with lymphoma). He understands mentally how it affects not just me but my family.
“The Mater Hospital and Dr Mulsow, the guy who did the operation, the frontline staff, they were all incredible. You see it during Covid, but you can’t speak highly enough of the people who were involved.
“There’s still a little bit to go, a small little operation left to be done. But the staff were brilliant and they make it as easy as possible, as difficult as it was.
“I’ve been very lucky to get the all-clear from the oncology team, that it didn’t get into the lymph nodes, that it hasn’t spread.
“They’ve managed to get it out and everything is clear. I’ll be getting checked every January and July for the next five years and then once a year after that, so there is a huge peace of mind from my end that I’m being checked constantly.”
Get the latest sports headlines straight to your inbox by signing up for free email alerts