Former Ireland international Stephen McPhail has revealed that a phone call from tennis legend Venus Williams prolonged his football career for four years.
The current Shamrock Rovers sporting director, in an interview with Phil Hay of The Athletic, said that following a diagnosis of Sjogren’s syndrome, a condition which affects the immune system, the ex-Leeds man was perpetually fatigued. The syndrome was linked to a diagnosis of lymphoma whilst he was at Cardiff. McPhail's cancer lead to a footballing interlude, and although he was given the all-clear, Sjogren's impacted on his football career going forward.
“I had zero energy and no amount of sleep made any difference,” McPhail said.
“When I hear people talking about suffering from fatigue I know exactly what they mean. I struggled big time to even get out of bed.”
Around the same time, tennis legend Venus Williams had also been diagnosed with the illness. McPhail's agent read quotes from Williams about being an athlete with Sjogren's, and reached out to the player's agent.
Then, out of the blue, McPhail's phone rang with five-time Wimbledon winner Williams on the other end. McPhail remarked that it was "pretty weird" speaking to a superstar in your kitchen.
“She put me in touch with her specialist in LA, the top one in the world for Sjogren’s. I visited him for a week, he put me on this treatment and it really worked.
“I couldn’t train properly and I couldn’t get through a session without feeling knackered.
“Without that treatment, I might have had no choice but to retire.”
That treatment in 2011 allowed McPhail to play until 2016. He stayed at Cardiff, a club he captained in an FA Cup final, until 2013. A brief stopover at Sheffield Wednesday was followed by a return home to Dublin in 2014. McPhail played for Shamrock Rovers for two seasons before taking the sporting director role at the club.
McPhail still lives with Sjogren's, the disease is incurable and causes McPhail to miss work from time to time.
“I live with it every day but I’m able to have a normal life.
“I respond pretty well and I’ve got my head around the fact that I have to manage it.”