Shiels' misfortune strikes a chord with Hay

LIKE the rest of us, Davie Hay's heart went out to Dean Shiels when it was revealed last week that the young Hibernian forward is to undergo an operation to remove his right eye. Unlike most of us, Hay was able to understand exactly what Shiels is going through.

He also has sympathy for Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes, who, coincidentally, was this week also sidelined because of an eye condition. The nature of Scholes' problem has not been revealed by the Old Trafford club but it is deemed serious enough for manager Sir Alex Ferguson to be without one of his most influential players for the remainder of the Premiership season.

If Shiels, the 20-year-old Northern Ireland international, feels the need to turn to someone for advice and encouragement as he bids to continue his career despite his handicap, he might do a lot worse than seek out Hay.

The fact that the former Celtic manager is blind in his right eye may still come as a surprise to many. Hay has long since come to terms with it, just as determinedly as he overcame the problem to forge an outstanding playing career with Celtic and Scotland.

If the circumstances surrounding Shiels and Hay are far from identical, there are nonetheless some remarkable similarities which ought to raise hopes that the young Ulsterman will be back in top-level action at Easter Road and Windsor Park next season.

"I've got a lot of empathy with the boy and what he is going through," says Hay. "When I read about him last week, it certainly struck a chord with me and my thoughts will be with him as he looks to get back to playing football."

Shiels' problem stemmed from a childhood accident which saw a wallpaper scraper cause the initial damage to his right eye. For Hay, that carries an echo of the freak happening which began his own difficulties.

"When I was a kid, I was hit in the right eye by a toy arrow when we were playing out on the street," he recalls. "The fact it caused a longer-term problem came to light at the time I joined Celtic from school. I realised I was short-sighted in the right eye, but I didn't tell anyone at the club.

"I had to wear contact lenses, which were not as easy to come by in 1967 as they are now, but I kept it a secret. I certainly didn't want to tell Jock Stein about it and I didn't want anyone to think my chances of making it as a player were lessened because of it."

Hay's attitude then was similar to Shiels, who kept his sight problem to himself when he joined Arsenal as a youngster. Just as Shiels has discovered, so did Hay find out that it was impossible to keep his secret forever.

It was shortly after his outstanding performances for Scotland in the 1974 World Cup finals and subsequent transfer from Celtic to Chelsea that the full extent of Hay's predicament emerged.

"Not long after I had joined Chelsea, I was diagnosed with a cataract in the right eye which was unusual for someone in their 20s. I had several operations and ended up wearing two different kind of contact lenses, a hard one in my left eye and a soft one in the right.

"That worked out okay for me for a couple of seasons, but then I got a kick just below the eye during a game. This time, I had a detached retina and my vision was never the same again. It was almost like double vision at times, with sort of dropped images from my left eye visible through my right."

It was when Hay went to hospital in London for a routine check-up after training one afternoon that he was given the first indication of the long-term damage he had sustained.

"I used to give Ron Harris a lift home after training," he says, "and I left him in the car while I popped into the surgery. When the doctor looked at the eye, though, I could tell from his reaction that something was up. He normally joked with me a lot, but this time he was deadly serious. He told me I would have to stay in and have an operation immediately. My first reaction was that I couldn't because Ron was waiting outside in the car, but before I knew it I had been strapped onto a bed which was tilted backwards to ease the blood pressure behind the eye.

"The operation didn't work but then Chelsea sent me to a specialist in Cambridge. He managed to stabilise the eye so I could continue playing, although he could not repair the damage to my sight in the eye."

Hay was able to resume his first-team career at Chelsea before his playing days were cruelly cut short at the age of 29 by a serious knee injury.

"I was able to play despite the eye problem," he says, "although I did find it difficult in midfield where my peripheral vision wasn't good and caused me problems. I got away with it playing at centre-half, though. I gradually lost the sight of my right eye completely, but it was the knee injury which stopped me playing.

"In Dean Shiels' case, he has obviously been able to cope with no sight in his right eye for a long time so hopefully it won't hinder him when he gets his operation. From what I have seen, he is a very talented player and deserves to succeed. The good thing is that he clearly has all the support he could want from his club. Hibs seem to be doing all they can to help him. I was fortunate in that sense, too, because Chelsea couldn't have done any more to help me through my problem. They gave me phenomenal backing and it made a big difference.

"I really hope Dean comes through it all okay, and he should have no doubts he can still achieve what he wants in the game despite what has happened."