Dooley: I wasn't strong enough to say I couldn't play
SHANE Dooley got some pretty shocking news last winter.
Offaly hurlers' top-scorer and metronomic free-taker struggled through the pain barrier all last season, but thought the cause of the constant pain in his back was muscular.
He had been told that his hamstring and glutes were the root cause and the extent of his problem was only confirmed when he eventually got time to go for an MRI.
It showed two badly damaged discs in his lower spine, two more bulging discs above them and detected an old fracture elsewhere in his back.
The specialist told him he shouldn't have played at all last year, but Dooley admits: "I wasn't strong enough to tell them I couldn't play when they were giving me the jersey."
A woodwork teacher in a school near Clondalkin in Dublin, he is still only 27. Surgery was offered, but he's kept that option for the future, if needed, and has spent the past three months rehabbing his way back to fitness with Offaly physio Cian McDonald.
He played his first game of hurling – a challenge game with the county – in nearly five months in the past week.
And while Offaly will be careful with his re-introduction, Dooley's recovery couldn't be coming at a better time. An opening-round Division 1B defeat by Laois – who hadn't won in Tullamore since 1960 – has put the frighteners on the Faithful.
That was not the start they'd hoped for, especially with local legend Brian Whelahan now in charge, but there are extenuating circumstances.
As Dooley points out, without any intended pun, the spine of the team is currently injured. Rory Hanniffy recently returned to training, but Dooley, David Kenny, Derek Morkan and Ciaran Slevin have all been missing so far and Whelahan gave NHL debuts to five starters last weekend and another off the bench.
Dooley doesn't want to detract from Laois' performance, however.
"It's not so long since Laois beat us, we lost to them in Portlaoise in 2007 or 2008," he recalls.
"Cheddar Plunkett certainly has a very good young team there, they're extremely fit and I'd heard they were training fierce hard.
"Some of the scores they were getting were serious and Stephen Maher scored some points that any top hurler would be proud of.
"Laois are a good team and expecting us to beat them handy was never going to happen, but the lads were very disappointed that we didn't really compete, we're not as bad as that," he stresses. A two-point defeat, he concedes, actually flattered Offaly, but what definitely didn't flatter them was Ger Loughnane's outspoken criticism of their fitness and physique in the run-up to their league opener.
"I don't think too many of our lads paid too much attention, but obviously no one likes to hear things like that," Dooley says.
"You're playing an amateur game, doing it for the love of the game and no one's getting paid, so to hear stuff like that would annoy you.
"I got messages from other hurlers around the country saying how disgusted they were at it.
"There's no need for it. If you can't analyse a team or a game without throwing those insults around then you shouldn't be doing it."
Loughnane's comments may not have stung Offaly into a reaction last weekend, but Dooley feels that their own poor performance will, especially as they face Wexford tomorrow, a team with whom it's usually nip-and-tuck.
"Away games are that little bit harder and we've to go to New Ross, so picking ourselves up after last weekend won't be easy," he admits. "But I think there'll be a backlash in the lads now."