Tuesday 25 October 2016

There's nothing wrong with getting to know the man behind the player

Published 29/05/2016 | 02:30

Podge Collins launches exclusive documentary on UTV Ireland. Photo: MaxwellPhotography.ie
Podge Collins launches exclusive documentary on UTV Ireland. Photo: MaxwellPhotography.ie

There are few images more harrowing on the sports field than that look on a player's face when they realise the injury they have just sustained is serious. It's a mix of shock, terror, pain and disbelief. Players instinctively know something is seriously wrong, and as they are being helped or carried off the field the emotions often get the better of them and tears start to flow.

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At this point, as we look on, sympathy can quickly give way to thinking about how the team will cope without that player and not so much about how the player will deal with their bad fortune. We don't think about the mental and physical anguish the player is about to endure. We want them back for the next game and we don't care how they get there.

If, as is often the case, the injury is worse than we might have thought, what lies ahead is also worse than expected. The life they know, one filled with training and matches, is gone, replaced instead by a long, lonely road of rehab. In sport the reward for sacrifices made is playing games, but when injury strikes the reward is gone.

A year ago one of Clare's brightest stars, Podge Collins suffered a devastating cruciate knee ligament injury. He needed surgery and nine months of rehab. There was no quick fix, no easy way back, just hard work and a long slog.

A few days after his worst nightmare was confirmed, I approached him and asked him could I follow his journey back to full fitness for a documentary for UTV Ireland. And much to my surprise he said yes. As a journalist I've become accustomed to requests for interviews being turned down. Access to players is becoming more difficult as inter-county teams opt to use media managers to deal with any requests.

The practice of picking up the phone and directly calling a player for a chat about a game has almost died out. It's been replaced by press nights where the interviewees stick to the five or six points that have been agreed with management beforehand. They tell us what we know - that it's going to be a tough challenge and a game of two halves - but who they are and how they feel is out of bounds.

And of course there are the press launches where players are micro-managed to the last. Their personalities are hidden behind the plugs for the products. So week in, week out we are watching great footballers and hurlers who we do not know. Unfortunately this disconnect between the fans and the players is growing and this divide is diminishing what's great about Gaelic games.

Podge was the opposite to this closed-off mentality. He made up his own mind, no need for calls to press officers or managers. He did it because he wanted it and committed fully to it. He handed over hours of his life to the cameras. No area was off limits: we visited his gym in Cratloe, his home and even his hospital bed.

The Sports Surgery Clinic in Santry and surgeon Ray Moran agreed to let us film his operation. It was fascinating, and yet difficult to watch; at one point the cameraman needed to get some air. And while the operation itself didn't faze me I found it difficult to see Podge lying motionless on operating table. So at odds to the livewire he is on and off the field. When he woke I was there to interview him and his first words were: "How did it go?" And, "When can I go back training?" But the reality was that after the operation the hard work was only just beginning.

But Podge approached his rehab like it was an All-Ireland final, cutting no corners on any step of the way, taking the cameras along with him. It wasn't an easy process and many times he struggled to deal with the frustrations of being sidelined. There were days he didn't want me around, and in keeping with his straightforward nature he told when to stay away.

Ultimately Podge made the documentary because he knew he was showing people that a serious injury doesn't mean the end of a career, that there is a way back. He felt that he could help and inspire players in the same situation by allowing them see what it takes to return to the best and prove that it can be done. His Allianz League wins in football and hurling over the last few weeks are testament to that. In My Toughest Year, you get to know the man behind the player and there's nothing wrong with that.

My Toughest Year, UTV Ireland,

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