Former Aberdeen captain Graeme Shinnie has admitted his battle with Crohn’s disease at the age of 18 remains the toughest challenge he has faced.
The Derby County midfielder was diagnosed with the disease at 12 and feared he was going to have to give up on his ambition of a career in football as he was breaking through the ranks at Caley Thistle.
Shinnie, however, overcame his health concerns and went on to captain Caley Thistle to the greatest day in the Inverness club’s history when they lifted the Scottish Cup in 2015.
He moved to Aberdeen that summer and became skipper and a key component of the Reds under Derek McInnes before leaving to join Derby County in 2019.
But the six-times capped Scotland international feared the illness was going to prevent him from fulfilling his football ambitions.
Speaking to The Athletic, he said: “I was at a really bad stage, so it was really concerning. Football wasn’t even in the picture. It was more how I’d recover from it. Football wasn’t a question — life was more important.
“It’s the toughest challenge I’ve had in my life.
“It’s not so much that I ignored it but I didn’t want to stop. I was enjoying where I was. I was a young footballer coming through playing in the top league in Scotland. It was everything that I’d wanted, so I tried to play through it without telling my family.
“My mum and dad used to always come to my games, and I played one game — I think we beat Morton — and I was saying to my team-mates that something wasn’t right with me.
“That night, my mum and dad put me in the car and took me to the hospital. I went through a big op. I had a 10-hour operation.
“I ended up having three abscesses in my stomach, so when they went in to do the op, I had part of my bowel taken out, part of my colon taken out, and then they found three abscesses as well which needed draining.”
He added: “At the time, I couldn’t get out of bed. My stomach was swollen. I couldn’t walk.
“It took me two or three weeks to get out of bed.
“My mum and dad moved into the house I was living in in Inverness to support me. When they used to leave… at one stage, getting out of bed and being able to go to the window, and waving to them in the car park was a big achievement.
“So then football was like: how am I going to do this? I’m struggling to walk just now.
“Terry Butcher was my manager at the time and he would visit every other day in the hospital.
“He assured me that my place was there at the club and I was always welcome back, so in my head, it was a case of, ‘If I can get back training, then there’s still a chance for me’.”
Shinnie has been a mainstay in Derby’s team this season, starting 31 of 35 games for Rams boss Wayne Rooney.
The Aberdonian hopes to be able to be part of the Scotland squad that heads to the European Championships this summer.
He added: “I’ve never shied away from saying I love going away with my national team.
“It’s always a massive honour to get that call-up. I’ve always said that as long as my form is good for my club, I can only do so much.
“Then, if the manager of the national team wants me in the squad, it’s an added bonus. When I’m being touted for it, then it must mean I’m doing something well.”