'I was a horrible person, my whole personality changed': Dubs star reveals scary side effects to Birmingham assault
Published 25/10/2016 | 02:30
On Saturday, the Dublin SHC final will take place. Two panels will put their whole year on the line, and either reigning champions Cuala or Kilmacud Crokes will leave disappointed.
Whatever happens, Crokes forward Ryan O'Dwyer will know that it won't be the lowest of lows or the highest of highs. There's too much water under the bridge to fall for that. Too much life has been lived.
This weekend holds a particular significance for the Tipperary native. When he runs out in Parnell Park this weekend, it'll be a year to the day that he decided on a jaunt across the water to the Rugby World Cup final with former Dublin team-mate Mossie O'Brien.
The rest of the story is well known. A stray box outside a Birmingham nightclub left him with a broken jaw, fractured skull and bleeding on the brain. As bad as the physical injuries were, the recovery was the most unsettling part. His personality changed fundamentally.
"I always say it was easier on me than it was on the people surrounding me, especially my fiancee," O'Dwyer recalls.
"If she had put a pillow over my head and smothered me I wouldn't have blamed her. I was a horrible person, my whole personality changed.
"I know a lot of people say I don't have a good personality anyway! But it totally changed. I was really irritable, really aggressive, for no reason. Someone could fart and I could go mad."
Happily, O'Dwyer is recovered, though the whole area of brain injuries remains something of a mystery. Since the incident, he has lost his sense of smell but in the process acquired a taste for fish.
"It's only recently I've done a little bit of reading into it," he says. "With brain injuries, you could get a brain injury and I could get a brain injury and it's two totally different reactions from it. You'll have a few (symptoms), like tired the whole time, forgetfulness, they are the ones that nearly everyone has.
"Like, Louis Theroux was on RTE there last week. Did anyone see that? He was doing a show on brain injuries and my fiancee was in tears, she was saying, 'that was you'.
"There was a woman there, from some part of England, and she was having a row with her husband and getting real aggressive with her kids and she hadn't seen the kids in a while. Then they interviewed the kids about it.
"Cliodhna said, 'that was you'. I didn't realise it, you don't realise it when it's happening to yourself. It's a very scary thing.
"If someone had said to me beforehand that this is what will happen I'd have said, 'you'll recover, you'll be alright'. But you have no control over it. So I'm glad she didn't smother me!"
Gradually, O'Dwyer returned to himself. Last Christmas, he told people asking after him that he was 100pc but, on reflection it was a lie.
"There was actually a time around I think March. That was the time when I actually noticed that there was a difference just with my irritability, there was a change around then," he explains."I wouldn't be able to pinpoint it to something, it wasn't as if I woke up one day and was normal . . . well, not normal, but back to me."
He made his return with Dublin during the summer. As luck would have it, he took a heavy blow to the head on his comeback against Wexford. It might have cowed others, but O'Dwyer had resolved not to change his combative style because of the incident.
"When I knew I was allowed to go back hurling, (neurosurgeon) Donncha O'Brien had said ease into it, try avoid slaps," he says.
"But then I said it to Chris (Thompson, former Dublin team doctor) and he said that's when you would get injured, that when you are holding back, that's when you do get a slap.
"And he said 'for your own sake don't change your game'. And I had to ask myself what got me here to where I am.
"I know I'm not the best hurler out there but I'm playing at a reasonably high level and what got me there is the way I play, so I said I wasn't going to abandon that."
Crokes have all his attention just now but that will soon turn to another campaign with Dublin. And as long as Ger Cunningham gives him the nod, O'Dwyer fully intends to return with Dublin in 2017.
"I don't like people asking me that," he smiles. "I still consider myself young! Ask Dotsie or Corcoran. You get to an age where you say 'I'm going to go year by year now' and yeah I'm going to give it 100pc for the year coming and hopefully I stay injury-free. If Ger wants me I'll definitely be giving it everything I can."