AT 29, Karl Sheppard should be still in his prime and entering the final years of his professional football career.
Unfortunately, the former Cork City player has had to call time on his career because the Dubliner felt he could no longer continue playing to the level he wanted to be at because of the effects of his psoriatic arthritis.
“I think I could have carried on for another season but that wouldn’t have been fair on whoever I played for because I know that I wouldn’t be able to give that club a fully fit player.
"When I play, I want to be able to give everything on the pitch but the last two seasons, I have really started to feel the effects of my arthritis and it has had an impact on my performances. I’m not the type of player that would sign for a club just to get a wage and if I had continued playing that’s probably what I would have been doing next season.
“I’ve been playing through a lot of pain the last two seasons and felt now was the right time for me to retire because it was starting to affect my private life. If, I played a game, I wouldn’t be able to sleep for the next three or four nights properly because I would be in so much pain.
"I spoke to family members before decided to retire and I suppose the way we looked at it was that by quitting football now it will allow me to be in less pain in the future and give me a better quality of life because I would be putting my body through so much by playing football.
"I’m only 29 but by retiring now, it’s a short-term pain for a long-term gain.”
Reflecting on being diagnosed with arthritis, Sheppard never thought that it would have such an impact on his career and is thankful to his former City physiotherapist James Peckitt for recognising quickly that the 29-year-old might have arthritis.
“It was about two months after I had won the double with City that I kept getting pains in my back and was having problems with my hamstring.
"I spoke to the physio James about my issues and he asked me did I have any rashes on my body, which I had, and he suggested that I might have arthritis, so he sent me to a specialist. I got some bloods taken and the results obviously weren’t good because they confirmed I had arthritis.
"I remember at the time feeling underwhelmed because I still felt fit and that season ended up getting to a cup final and I felt good. I thought it might be something that could cause me problems further down the line.
"It was the 2019 season with City that it really started to affect my performances and I never felt the same since. I hadn’t missed much games through injury throughout my career but that season, I missed a lot of games and a lot of training sessions.
“I thought I was managing the arthritis when I first signed for Shelbourne. I was flying in the first couple of games but took a knock on my knee in training one day and just never managed to recover fully from that.”
Having considered retirement throughout the League of Ireland off-season, Sheppard was determined to at least try and begin preseason training and see how his body coped. However, dealing with arthritis along with contracting coronavirus confirmed to the former Shamrock Rovers that now was the right time to retire.
“I went back doing gym sessions and my rehab with Shelbourne but just never felt right and knew it would take a long time for me to get to where I wanted to be at.
"I tried to do HITT (High-Intensity interval Training) after recovering from Covid and that was difficult to do and recover from, so, getting that illness set me back a few weeks.
"I have a low immune system and I was very wary of getting coronavirus. I took all the precautions I could but unfortunately, still contracted the virus."
Reflecting on his career and looking forward to the future, Sheppard talks about his European run with Rovers and his time at City as his standout moments and hopes to remain in the game in some capacity.
“Making the European group stages with Rovers was unbelievable. I will never forget the game in Belgrade, playing against Tottenham and scoring in the Europa League. I was only 19, at the time and probably took it for granted.
“Then there was the 18-month period at City when we won the FAI Cup and then won the double the following season. We always approached games thinking we were going to win by three or four no matter who we played whether that was Dundalk or Drogheda.
“I do hope to stay involved in the game. I have coaching badges so I would hope to do some sort of coaching and I’m trying to get that sorted in the next few weeks but I’m also working for a company called Cubo Coffee whom I’ve worked for the past several months and really enjoy it.”