Wednesday 26 November 2014

'I looked down and saw a big lump in the middle of my thigh – it was my kneecap' - Seán Óg Ó hAilpín

Match fit: Sean Óg Ó hAilpín spent a long, hard winter training in a bid to get back to playing inter-county hurling after a car crash
Match fit: Sean Óg Ó hAilpín spent a long, hard winter training in a bid to get back to playing inter-county hurling after a car crash
Sean Óg Ó hAilpín's autobiography is published on Thursday
The Cork star in action against Tipperary in 2012

By 2001, Seán Óg Ó hAilpín was a huge hurling star. But a car accident that year almost ended his career. It happened in May 2001 in the week before Cork were due to play Limerick in the championship.

On Thursday of that week Seán Óg had been in Dublin for a Guinness promotion – they were sponsors of the hurling championship at the time. After lunch he headed back to Cork for training, stopping between Roscrea and Templemore to visit a friend. He left his friend's house at 4.30pm, a little anxious about being in time for training in Cork. In this extract from his autobiography, which is published on Wednesday, Seán Óg remembers the crash – and his long battle to recovery:

I went through Templemore and made for the main road back to Thurles. I was panicking a little, because time was pushing on and you don't want to be late for training the week of the championship.

I was near Loughmore-Castleiney – close to the home place of Paul Ormond, the Tipperary hurler – and there was a car ambling along in front of me. I spent a while considering whether to overtake, and then I said to myself I'd go for it.

There was a bend up the road, and as soon as I swung out and tried to pass I knew I was in trouble. I should have just braked and come back in, but I was young and thought I was invincible, and I carried on.

I saw flashing lights as a car came towards me. Bang: a head-on collision.

After the noise, the impact, I realised the radio was still on in the car. The crash had turned my car around, and I was facing back the way I'd come, towards Templemore. The car that I'd collided with was jammed up against the ditch. When I got to my senses and realised what had happened, I started shouting and roaring.

I looked down and saw a big lump in the middle of my thigh. At the time I thought it was just a swelling from a bruise on my leg; in fact it was my kneecap. There was no pain initially: I was in shock, the adrenalin was pumping.

After a few seconds the driver of the other car came over to me. (It turned out he'd been bringing four kids to a soccer game, and the only one who was hurt seemed to be the one sitting in the middle of the back seat, who got a bit of a scrape.) Now, I'd been on the wrong side of the road, and the other driver was well within his rights to lift me out of it.

When he got close enough to see me, your man said: "Don't tell me you are Seán Óg Ó hAilpín?"

The front of my car was like an accordion, all squashed in, so the door was crushed too tight for me to open it myself, but he was able to yank it free. I tried to get out, but I couldn't lift my leg off the floor of the car.

When I eventually worked my way out of the car, my leg buckled underneath me, and the pain started to kick in. The other driver helped me over to sit down on the ditch, and garda cars, the fire brigade and ambulances started to arrive.

That's when I started thinking of the game that Sunday. It was May 24, two days after my 24th birthday, and at that point I was thinking a couple of days' rest would sort me out.

I was taken by ambulance to Nenagh Hospital and X-rayed, and the pain was excruciating. They dosed me with morphine.

The doctor said I'd have to fast because they wanted to bring me to Limerick for an operation. I rang home to tell them I'd been in an accident but that I was okay, and then I rang Tom Cashman (the Cork manager).

At first he thought I was putting him on – 'Tell me you're kidding me' – but when he realised I was serious, his only concern was about my health. The game didn't come into it.

I rang Dr Con (the Cork medic) and he thought I was pulling his leg as well until I convinced him I was in the hospital in Nenagh. And straight away he asked to speak to the doctor and told him to send me down to Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) for an operation.

Irish Independent

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