Former Sunderland boss Malcolm Crosby has revealed for the first time how super-talented youngster Kieron Brady blew his big chance of becoming a Wembley hero in the 1992 FA Cup final.
The supremely gifted midfielder was offered the incentive of involvement in the final if he knuckled under and got himself into the best possible shape, only for the young Irishman to fail to rise to the challenge and miss out!
Speaking for the first time on the subject Crosby told the Sunderland Echo: “Kieron had been a substitute in almost every game in the Cup, but when we got to the final, he had put something like six pounds on in weight.
“Kieron was prone to being a bit heavy, and so about a month before the final I pulled him into the office and I told him: ‘Lose at least half of it, and you will either be playing at Wembley or you will be on the bench’.
“Do you know what happened?
“He put more weight on!
“If you’re six pounds overweight it will show on a footballer, but if you put even more on it is definitely going to show.
“That is the reason I didn’t put him on the bench.
“That told me what sort of professional Kieron was. I had actually told him that he would be playing in the FA Cup final if he lost some weight, and without a doubt, he would have come on had he been in anything like decent shape.
“So that was very sad.
“He had been given a wonderful opportunity in advance, but he just didn’t bother, and that was such a shame."
Cult hero Brady is still talked about in revered tones by Sunderland supporters who believe he could have been ‘our Gazza’.
Former youth-teammate and later Michael Gray has described him as the best young player he ever saw.
And there were glimpses of Brady’s potential genius on the pitch but not enough before a career-ending blood disorder and he played only 33 times for Sunderland, scoring seven goals, between 1989-92.
Two of those goals, ironically, came against today’s Sunderland opponents Port Vale - when he scored twice to rescue a point in a 3-3 draw in October 1991.
But the game he is always remembered for is a towering man-of-the-match display in a 4-3 win over West Ham.
“He could have been one of the best players to have played in this country. He really could, he had that much ability," recalls Crosby in the new book ‘The Managers’ Tales From the Reds and Whites’ which is being launched at the Stadium of Light with Peter Reid this Friday.
Author and Sunderland fan Lance Hardy, who interviewed Malcolm, said: “Anybody who watched the team in the early 1990s will have their own personal memories of Kieron, such as Malcolm’s above.
“My own particular favourite was seeing him nonchalantly flick the ball over his head with the back of his heel before bringing it to rest on his knee at Bradford City when Sunderland were awarded a throw-in during an exciting late surge into the play-offs in March 1990.
“He scored the only goal of the game that day too, and was just as brilliant three days later at Bramall Lane when he starred in a 3-1 win over promotion-bound Sheffield United.
“Most famous of all was another man-of-the-match display from him at home against West Ham United, scoring a spectacular overhead kick, in a 4-3 win at Roker Park the week before the Bradford game.“
Brady who was forced to retire at the age of just 21, has gone on to a career as a successful campaigner, most notably against discrimination in football and currently coaches young players with Gary Bennett in the Back2Basics coaching company.
Kieron said: “Yes, I remember that and it’s a shame but I think you have to remember that in most of the games I played for Sunderland’s first team, I was still eligible for the youth team - so I was very young and perhaps a bit ignorant of the difference a few extra pounds could make.
“I was a big eater and this was an era before nutritionists, so I never had a diet sheet in my time at the club.
“I could point out that Jan Molby pretty much controlled the FA Cup final for Liverpool and he wasn’t the most athletic shape!
“But that wouldn’t be a fair comparison.
“Steve McManaman was excellent in that final and his game was much more like mine - where a few extra pounds really can affect your pace across the first five-10 yards.
“Sometimes when you’re a young player, you’re so young there’s a danger you don’t really take things in.”