“YOU don’t understand, I could have had class, I could have been a contender, I
could have been somebody.”
In the 1950’s classic, ‘On The Waterfront’ a youthful Marlon Brando laments his boxing career cut short by cheap shots, pay-offs and injury.
Following his retirement he struggles with the reality of being an exprize fighter turned longshoreman who is faced with the reality of everyday life as just another somebody, a has-been, an also ran. The lights have faded and the hangers on have long since departed and it is just his brother and him left.
Professional sportsmen and women, no matter the code, can struggle badly when the cheers of the crowd fade and the bright lights dim. Alcohol, drugs, depression, infidelity, bankruptcy can often fill that void as has come to pass many times following high profile sporting retirements.
That void is also present, perhaps to a lesser degree, for GAA players when the end of the road appears on the horizon. The same feeling is present for those that have scaled the highest heights of our sports and walked away with its biggest prizes as well as for those that achieved no silverware but friendships and memories that last a lifetime.
No matter how successful your sporting career is, when it starts to fade and the reality of your own mortality starts to bite, the question is often asked, “what do I do now?”
When your career gets taken from you through injury however that is often a much harder question to answer.
Recently, the famous Kilcoo club in Down issued a statement regarding the influential Darragh O’Hanlon, who having spent 13 months coming back after a serious back injury, suffered the dreaded cruciate ligament knee injury in a recent club training session meaning that the Down ace is facing another extended spell on the sidelines.
The club statement confirmed that, “Darragh is devastated with this latest setback so we as a club would appreciate any contact regarding the injury goes through the senior management team.”
Antrim and Cushendall hurler Arron Graffin recently went public on his own knee injury torment and the struggle that goes along with trying to battle back to play. His graphic depiction of the reality of serious injury makes for lamentable reading.
He commented that, “Injuries can get you down. Injuries can be hard to deal with. I received a card after my knee surgery that read: “Life can be a bit shit, hang in there.”
A very true statement in many respects.
It is this time of year that any player struck by a serious injury will be most impacted.
Colm Cooper, when he tore his ACL, commented that he might be able to make a few weddings and stag parties that year but all the stag parties and weddings in the world will never replace what it is like to run out on the field on Championship Sunday.
Win, lose or draw, playing in any code on the days when the sun is on your back and the bumblebee is at the window are simply irreplaceable.
At the start of June, I had my own experience with serious injury, the first of my career, and coming at 32 it could bring the curtain down on two sports that have been my life since I was old enough to walk.
I vividly remember kicking and pucking balls in the front garden with my brothers, starting from the time the morning sun hit the window when the grass still hung with the dewfall and only ending when knees were scraped, lips burst and the orange creeping back across the horizon.
The doctor told me that tearing your Achilles is worse than breaking your leg and that I am facing a long road ahead, even before I am be able to walk properly again never mind play at a competitive level. One month out from championship and in the autumn of my career, the reality of my own morality came in to sharp perspective as I sat alone in that dreary cubicle in Belfast.
I left the hospital that day thinking, “I’ll be back before the tail end of the year; the boys will keep the championship run going until I am back on my feet.”
Following the appointment and having spent hours on trawling the internet and speaking to every physio and doctor I knew, the reality of the challenge facing me sunk in. I lay awake that night reassuring myself that, “I’m only a young man, I’ll come back from this.” Putting a brave face on it for all around me I battled on not missing one day of work but heartbreakingly missing the championship preparation with my club – not being able to travel home for training has been the hardest part.
In my mind I am fine, often hopping out the door in the morning forgetting my crutches for a split second.
Graffin’s post was ended by five simple points and a phrase which I am currently relying on to bring me through these summer months:
1. Stay mentality strong.
2. Trust the processes involved.
3. Listen to the medical advice.
4. Use your support network.
5. Work hard and do not give up.
“Your body achieves what your mind believes”
As he sat in the back of the car with his brother, moving through the night, passing dark corners and bright lights, Brando lamented again that he could have been some one and that he could have been a contender.
With the help of my support network and my team mates I, like Brando, hope to get
the chance to content again next season.